Amidst the beginning of the 2017 college football season, UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen made a statement about student athleticism that has shook up the world of collegiate athletics. In an interview with Bleacher Report, Rosen said that “football and school don’t go together, they just don’t. Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs. There are guys who have no business being in school, but they’re here because this is the path to the NFL. There’s no other way. Then there’s the other side that says to raise the SAT eligibility requirements. Ok, raise the SAT requirement at Alabama and see what kind of team they have. You lose athletes and then the product on the field suffers.”
Rosen isn’t the first football player to make this point. Back in 2015, Seattle Seahawks’ three time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman spoke about the difficulty in balancing a life as both a college football player and full time student. But could there be a way out of this difficult situation? If so, what would it look like?
The concern that Rosen has over the time constraints of being an elite Division-I athlete and a student shouldn’t come as a surprise. College football brings in huge revenues for the school, the conference and the NCAA. As those revenues have continued to grow, less emphasis has been placed on academics for those who compete and star on the highest level. As a result, many football players choose an easy major with a light work load in order to stay eligible. Rosen’s major, economics, takes more time and effort than one which simply keeps you eligible to play a time consuming sport. So it would seem as if he has a first-hand experience as to the difficulties a student-athlete would encounter when dealing with the pressure of an intense academic schedule.
Rosen’s claim that there are players competing at the highest levels in college football who have no business being in college should also not come as a surprise either. Since putting a great team on the field takes priority over other concerns, elite schools in top conferences will often forgo sub-par academic performance in order to assemble a better squad. This is often why easy majors at these universities exist in the first place. It has also lead to a number of academic scandals involving top athletic programs.
The key statement in Rosen’s comment is that “there’s no other way.” This refers to the fact that playing football in college is the only real way to get noticed by the NFL. Despite college academics having nothing to do with playing a sport, top football players are forced to take on a full time class schedule and football schedule at the same time if they want to reach the professional level. Since a player must be removed from high school for three years before entering the NFL Draft, an athlete must find a way to stay eligible through several semesters. This is a significant difference from the NBA’s “one and done” rule where athletes leaving school after one year only have to stay eligible for a single semester before being drafted.
The solution to this problem is that the NFL needs to take a page out of Major League Baseball’s playbook. Create a minor league system that allows players to be drafted by an NFL team and develop their skills on that level before going pro. This way, players who do not desire a full time college schedule or those not able to undertake one would not have to. Doing this would certainly provide the “other way” that Rosen cited as not existing in the current system.
Sadly, the NCAA would not let this solution occur. Allowing another path to the NFL would likely cause many elite football players to choose against playing for a top school. Thus, the level of talent on the field would suffer. The NCAA is not about to let this happen. So for the sake of maintaining a certain level of play in college athletics, they will prevent a “minor league” system managed by the NFL that would threaten their significance. The revenue stream for college football can’t be threatened in any way. As a result, going to college must remain the only way for an outstanding football player to display the talent that he has. Whether that player has the academic ability or desire to be in college in the first place will not be a matter for concern.