November 8, 2012

NEWCOMB | A Tweet to Remember

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A few weeks ago, a little known third-string quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes put his name in the national spotlight with a statement made through Twitter about the importance of his academic career. His tweet reads: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS.”

Immediately following the discovery of this gem, the Buckeye in question, Cardale Jones, no longer had a Twitter account and this post was nowhere to be found. Luckily for everyone in the free world, various media outlets had captured his quote before it could be lost to the abyss that is the interwebs.

This statement by Mr. Jones touched upon two issues: the perilous stance of student athletes and the monster that has become college football. The long debate over whether or not college athletes should be paid is another topic for another column, but as it stands, the eligibility of an athlete rests on his academic standing. Ergo, the point of “playing school” would be to play football. This appears to be logic lost on Mr. Jones.

While I know nothing of Mr. Jones’s interest in Ohio State as a university, I would say it is a fair assumption that his interest in Ohio State lies with his athletic opportunity to play for the Buckeyes. In this sense, he criticizes what he would view as a roadblock to his interest. It just so happens that this obstacle is in fact the primary goal of any university, and that would be education.

Starting with the issue this raises with respect to student athletes, Jones’s quote describes (not eloquently) a conflict between athletics and academics felt by student athletes. Mr. Jones is a freshman on the Ohio State football team, and is third on the depth chart to play quarterback for the Buckeyes (behind a Heisman candidate, so it doesn’t look promising that he’ll start anytime soon). He has not played in any of Ohio State’s games this year.

Given his status on the team, it’s hard to understand the confidence in his quote to say that classes are pointless if he is not even playing football. I would be so bold to say that he is at worst spending the same amount of time in the classroom as he is on the field, but with any luck, he has spent more time in class than he has playing quarterback.

You may ask yourself, how does this relate to college football on a larger scale? Or even to Ohio State? My argument is that the culture created within college football inspires the belief that football players are just biding their time in college before going to the NFL. This is, however, a miscalculation on the part of Mr. Jones and any other player who shares his sentiment.

Every year, the NCAA produces a report detailing the Graduation Success Rate for every Division I school and each of its athletic programs. For the second straight year, the Ivy League ranks as the top conference for GSR with 97.9 percent of the student athletes graduating within the conference.

Now, this may seem like an outlier given that the Ivy League focuses on academics more than other major conferences might when it comes to athletics. Ohio State, a member of the Big Ten conference has a 74 GSR, and is in the middle of the Big Ten conference in terms of graduation rate. Northwestern leads the conference with a score of 97, which leads the division by 8 percentage points, and ranks among the top national percentages for Division I schools.

My point in comparing the graduation rate between Ohio State and Northwestern is to show that even among schools in the same division, the treatment of academics can be incredibly different. While Ohio State is undefeated this season (despite NCAA sanctions that they cannot be postseason eligible), Northwestern is hanging tough in the Big Ten with a 7-2 record this season.

The other important aspect of this quote is the reflection of college football’s increasing status as a business rather than a fun element of student life. ESPN published the total revenue of Ohio State’s athletic department in 2008, and it ranks third in the country (behind Alabama and Texas) with just over $115 million.

Last year, the football team alone grossed nearly $50 million, and is a huge source of revenue for the university. Student athletes play on major television networks every week, and in many ways, are captivated by the celebrity status that they gain while still attending college.

According to the NCAA, 1.7 percent of college football players will play professional football in the NFL. This is a much smaller percentage than I had expected, but it puts a perspective on the chances of a college football player making it to the professional stage.

My message to Cardale Jones, and the other student athletes like him, is that I hope you graduate. I hope that you come to the realization that your time spent “playing school” is probably the last time you’re going to get to play football. Given that you haven’t taken a snap yet this season, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you are not going to be in the 1.7 percent of players making it to the NFL.

Of course it’s possible that you’ll get your shot to play at Ohio State, and you will be the best quarterback I’ve ever seen, and that you’ll make it to the NFL.

Until then, sucks to suck.

Original Author: Annie Newcomb