Wrong lesson: Colleges should not forget athletes are students first

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Few could argue that college athletics, with its huge TV contracts, grand stadiums and even grander-salaried coaches, is a money-soaked business. But the NCAA still insists on its tired trope of the “student-athlete.” To everyone else, it’s become increasingly clear that universities are neglecting their primary duty of educating students in the face of big-money athletics.

Sports headlines these days trundle from one college’s crisis of dishonesty to the other’s. University administrators are incentivized to look the other way from scandals of all sizes, from the usual fare of sleazy recruitment to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University. Prestigious universities are no more immune to these temptations: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has come under investigation for offering fake classes to athletes.

Ultimately, the greatest disservice is done to the athletes — only 1 percent of whom go on to play professionally — who are robbed of a meaningful university education. An analysis last Sunday by the Post-Gazette found that athletes in Top 25 football and basketball programs were often clustered in identical, less-rigorous majors, no matter what the individual student’s interest. Top athletes are often steered away from time-intensive courses by advisers — one football player recounted being told not to attend a chemistry class required for pre-med majors and later choosing psychology as a major.

All this undercuts the professed mission of the NCAA. Our amateur college sports seem to be increasingly pre-professional. But student athletes should be just that — as driven by their studies as their sports.

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