With Terrelle Pryor both eligible for the NFL supplemental draft and suspended for the first five games of the year, the talking heads will once again debate whether or not college players should be paid for their efforts. Their argument on the pro-payment side usually boils down to the fact that the college and the NCAA both make a ton of money off of the players, and the players have to do it all for nothing. Pryor's attorney was on Mike and Mike this morning, and he took the debate to an even lower level.
He said that the system is broken because 46% of Division 1 football players and 56% of Division 1 basketball players are lied to when they're offered a free education because those are the percentages of the players who do not graduate. If they're not graduating, he argued, they're basically leaving school empty-handed if they're not lucky/skilled enough to make it as a professional. In effect, these kids have been exploited for four years and then shunted on their ways, leaving the college and the NCAA holding bags of cash.
This is, of course, patently absurd on a number of levels. A full Division 1 scholarship carries with it more than just tuition costs. The attorney said that Pryor was given a full ride and "only" a $1300 per month stipend for rent. In those dire straits, he had to sell memoribilia just to have some money to send home to his mother to help her out with rent. Pryor was also given four years of what basically amounted to internship experience, auditioning his skills for the people who might want to hire him after he left college. A lot of college students fight very hard to find their ways into a limited number of internships - some or most of which are entirely unpaid - for that opportunity.
The idea that college players have to sell things as their only source of potential income is also ridiculous. It's not unheard of that a college student - or even a student athlete - works while in school. If Pryor's mother's financial sitaution was such that she needed his support, I'm sure someone in Columbus would have been more than willing to offer him a part-time job so he could help her make ends meet. There are limits on how much time football is allowed to take up (just ask Rich Rodriguez) in a student's day, and it's not so much that he couldn't have worked a few hours during the week and gotten a job over the summer if he needed pocket money. Beyond, you know, the money he was saving by not paying a dime in tuition, room, and board and the $1300 a month stipend he was getting to help pay his rent.
Finally, I don't deny that most of the value of a scholarship is tied up in getting your degree, but if a player leaves that on the table, shouldn't the fault mostly lie with him? The average college graduate leaves school with almost $30,000 in student loan debt, in return for which he carries a degree (usually) and absolutely no guarantee of future employment. The average full ride student-athlete leaves school debt-free and - according to the numbers quoted above - a 50/50 shot at having a degree. Additionally, Pryor and his peers enjoyed off-campus housing with no cost to them, the opportunity to - at the very least - play intercollegiate athletics, exposure to possible employers on a national market, and celebrity status on campus. If that's exploitation, sign me up. In the meantime, maybe we should look into the idea that players behave the way that they do is because the system already treats them like kings. I'm not sure adding more money to the mix is the best way to remedy that problem.