End the Charade: Let Athletes Major in Sports

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College sports being tainted by cheating and moral dilemmas is nothing new. Almost never does a week pass by without some deviance being uncovered and scrutinized by every news media. The unstable in college sports comes from a steady stream of scandalous disclosures depicting criminal communications and relationships among athletes, agents, and coaches, not to mention forced resignations, expulsions, and sanctions.

Articles, letters to the editor, and essays have attacked against those ethical violations for decades in well-intentioned efforts to provide solutions. A recent investigation by The Chronicle's Brad Wolverton revealed a host of quick, cheap, and easy academic credits available to athletes in danger of losing their eligibility to play.

Why do we impose upon young, talented, and serious-minded high-school seniors the importance of selecting an academic major that is completely irrelevant to their heartfelt desires and true career objectives? Possession of athletic skills is what a significant number of Division I student athletes want to pursue. And this is why they've gone to their campus of choice. These athletes’ confessions about their primary interest are readily proclaimed and by no means denied. These athletes are as honest in recognizing and admitting their aspiration as the student who declares a goal of performing someday. Student athletes wish to be professional entertainers. That is where their heart's desire.

The family members, friends, and high-school coaches acknowledge and support this goal, so why not let them step out of the closet and declare their true aspiration­—to study football, basketball, or baseball? Why not legitimize such an academic specialty in the same manner that other professional performance careers, such as dance, voice, theater, and music, are recognized and supported? Why not establish a well-planned, defensible, educationally sound curriculum that correlates with a career at the elite level of sports?

There is no parent who would deny feeling pride and pleasure upon learning of a son's success in securing an NFL, NBA, or MLB contract. Our culture is solidly supportive of its professional athletes.

The young athlete would be given the opportunity to undertake meaningful education under the protection of distinguished professors of sports behavior in the same way that an entering student studies within a university's program of English literature, mathematics, or music. Elite college coaches and their support staff are as complete in their specialty sports as are their counterparts in other campus departments. Higher education, for better or worse, aims to be a pathway to a future career.

Two years of basic studies await most freshmen upon entering the four-year college campus, and such is expected of student athletes as well. But at this point the falsity surfaces. Athletes are obliged to identify a major course of study, and many are compelled to do so cunningly. All too many young men either completely lack interest in the mandatory and largely erratic convenient choice of major or are only marginally attracted to it. Their main focus is upon the sports they play. It is here where student athletes most powerful and meaningful motivations lie.

After those first two years are completed, a realistic curriculum for a "sports performance major" might look something like this:

Junior year, first semester: anatomy and physiology; educational psychology (introduction to learning theory); laboratory in heavy resistance training; football, basketball, or baseball offensive strategies (scrimmage).
Junior year, second semester: introduction to sports psychology; introduction to physiology of exercise; laboratory in aerobic fitness training; elements of contract law; football, basketball, or baseball laboratory (scrimmage); health education.
Senior year, first semester: introduction to human nutrition; public speaking; football, basketball, or baseball laboratory (offensive and defensive strategies); introduction to sports coaching.
Senior year, second semester: introduction to motor learning; stress and performance; elements of business law; the body in motion.

This fixed coursework would be relevant to the athlete's career objectives. And those young men who enter collegiate sports with nonprofessional aspirations would certainly not be required to elect sports as their majors. They would be free to choose any major.

During the four semesters of coursework beyond basic studies, athletes would also be participating in seasonal, on-the-field practice in their respective sports. They would continue to participate in intercollegiate competition where they can apply skills and knowledge acquired from their educational experiences. This would be comparable to what undergraduate musicians and theater students do.

College athletes would truly be preparing for a well-defined, societal approved professional future. Their degree upon graduation would be a B.A. in sports performance. Their required coursework and laboratory experiences would relate to future professional needs, expectations, and demands.

Those unsuccessful candidates for professional sports positions­ would deal with their foiled dreams in the same way that rejected medical- and law-school applicants and turned-down musicians and actors would. They would keep trying or progress to alternative careers.

By: Mike Senkier