Anyone who’s ever read Here in Franklin knows that I am an unabashed fan of the University of Tennessee athletics. Volleyball, basketball, tiddly-winks–if the Vols are playing, I’m rooting for them. But of all the sports played in Knoxville, there’s one that is king of the hill and that’s football. Millions and millions of dollars are made at EVERY HOME GAME. Millions more everytime they’re on tv. Millions more in concessions, donations and loose change found under the seat cushions in the luxury boxes.
Not a dime of that money goes to the players. Sure, they’re on scholarship and they’re getting a free education. But who are we kidding here. UT is a great school. It is also a football factory. And every year there are players on the team who could care less about class and school. They’re there for one reason only–as a stepping stone to the NFL.
Making the NFL is a long shot for sure. But if you’re a starter on a football factory team in the Southeastern Conference, you have a better than average shot of making it in the pros. Of course, there are pro prospects who excel at school. The poster child for that is Peyton Manning. But there’s a difference between Manning and most of the other players aiming to go pro–Manning is from a rich family. He could afford to stay in school. He didn’t need to buy his mama a house.
Wednesday night three UT players were arrested for armed robbery. The weapon in question was a pellet gun and no one was hurt. But these three freshmen have screwed up monumentally. Their future is in doubt, but I hope they are kicked off the team and out of school. That sounds harsh, but it’s not their first time in trouble. And I’m guessing that anyone who was out cruising around at 2 a.m. probably wasn’t going to make it to their first class anyhow.
So, here’s my plan. (NCAA, if you’re reading, just e-mail and we can discuss this further.)
Each school has the right to designate 10 players as being “Pro Track.” This means that these ten players are declaring that they have no interest in sitting in art history classes. They have one goal–the NFL. The criteria for choosing these players is not unlike the NFL combine…they take a series of physical and mental tests to determine if they’re eligible for the Pro Track. If they are selected, they don’t attend regular classes. However, they are prepared for living the life of a millionaire professional player–how to handle money, how to choose an agent, how to make sure that you have the right people around you.
At most schools–certainly most public schools–the idea of the “student athlete” is somewhat laughable. The Peyton Mannings of the world come along once in a generation. More common is the underprivileged kid who is blessed with one thing only–incredible athletic ability. We all know why they’re in school–it’s time we admitted it.
I don’t know if a system like this would’ve kept those three young men at home Wednesday instead of out looking for trouble. But it’s definitely time for a change.