David J. Neal

David J. Neal: For college student-athletes, time should mean money

Reasonable people want the NCAA and its member schools to get up off of the piles of revenue or at least make room for some athletes to sit next to them. I say give them money. And something bigger.

Time is not money. Time is worth more. You can figure out ways to make more money. You can only rearrange time.

Time to actually be a college student. Time to engage in inventive leisure. Time to spend late nights arguing over the Middle East, gay marriage, In-and-Out vs. Steak ‘n’ Shake. Time for the interested to get the degree they’re going to need once their ability or age sidelines them permanently. Time for the work necessary to get degrees in areas populated by people who actually know what Sheldon Cooper’s talking about on The Big Bang Theory.

The Power Five conferences (Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Pac-10, Big 12), the partial secession the NCAA allowed, vowed in their autonomy proposal that they “are committed to meeting the needs of student-athletes based on increased resources, and they desire to provide student-athletes with enhanced benefits such as full cost of attendance, lifelong learning and additional health and nutritional benefits.”

Bully for them. What about the chance to put all that to use like the “student” part of the NCAA’s favorite phrase?

I know, many other students work just to lessen the debt with which they will leave college. But in getting the good fortune of having an extracurricular activity pay for their education, athlete-students get enslaved to the obligations of that activity.

In addition to practices, games, workouts and meetings, some schools also require public service of all their athletes. Amazing how full that day gets even before those nasty ol’ classes shoulder their way onto the schedule. Heaven help the athlete if any of that involves moving between a school’s campuses.

Remember Stefan Humphries? Valedictorian at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. Prized offensive line recruit at Michigan. Michigan’s Outstanding Engineering Student in the Class of 1984 along with being a First Team All-America and third round Chicago Bears draft pick.

Sports Illustrated profiled Humphries coming out of high school as “The Can’t Miss Kid” in 1980, then revisited him after Michigan graduation. Humphries admitted “sometimes, I miss out on what the normal student might experience. … I find myself always wanting another hour. Just one more. …”

And that was in 1984. A few SEC outliers aside, games were Saturday afternoon. Offenses and defenses were Fisher-Price playsets compared with today with little variance within conferences. Three years later, I calculated I spent more time researching, reporting, watching, writing about the bowl-bound football team I covered than the football team spent being the football team.

Not anymore. Not even close. The practice limits get pushed by coaches who want to see extra time put in by the starters somewhere — post-practice technique refinement, film room.

Football draws the most attention. It’s certainly the most damaging to the body in competition. But, at least, football’s an in-and-out deal — hotel the night before the game, home or away; game day; often back in the dorm room by the wee hours of that night.

But go check out a baseball or softball schedule. Friday-Saturday-Sunday weekend series with the occasional midweek game. When do you decelerate enough to plant yourself for weekend schoolwork? Or, just that wonderful college classroom of conversation with somebody of a very different background and interests? Sunday night?

Some basketball or volleyball teams spend a week on the road in nonconference play. All those years administrators resisted college football Division I-A playoffs on the grounds of cutting too much into academic time, they cringed when someone pointed out the tall jocks’ and jockettes’ itineraries.

The proliferation of online classes doesn’t solve this. For most of us, the best education we got in college wasn’t the one for which we got a degree.

The pimps of college athletics figured out how to create a college football playoff system without killing the bowls. They’ve created a near-autonomous echelon of college athletic programs.

Don’t tell me they can’t figure out how to give their athletes more time to be students.