Derek Redd: College athletes have earned schools’ help striking balance

UCLA’s Josh Rosen (3) throws a pass against Arizona State during a 2016 game.

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen had too much of the initial spotlight focused on one statement he made to Bleacher Report’s Matt Hayes. In the days after, that spotlight bled over to more of what he said, and that has led to an important conversation about college athletics, the demands made on the student-athlete and time management.

The big, bold, click-bait headline when the story first was published was Rosen’s line, “OK, raise the SAT requirement at Alabama and see what kind of team they have.” That left tongues wagging because the California quarterback dared to poke the giant, crimson-clad elephant in Tuscaloosa. So Alabama coach Nick Saban had to waste his time defending his university’s academic standards, which he shouldn’t have had to do. Different schools have different standards, public schools have different criteria than private schools and a football coach shouldn’t have to worry about discussing them.

It was pretty much everything else Rosen said about the subject that was more important.

The quarterback and economics major talked about the difficulties that come with balancing his sport and his schooling. For instance, there was a class he needed for his major only offered in the spring. But it conflicted with spring football, so the gridiron took precedence. Those instances aren’t just sequestered to football. I’ve heard stories of basketball teams where chunks of the roster must either come to practice late or leave early because necessary classes are only offered during those practice hours.

Since Rosen’s comments went public, plenty of talking heads — some of them former athletes — have sat behind microphones and said they went through the same issues and had no problem striking the right balance. And, sure, they had no problem. That doesn’t allow them to make a blanket statement about every student-athlete. For plenty of them, it is difficult. Their schedules might be tougher to navigate based on their majors. School just might be tougher for them overall.

And in the case of college football, any player dreaming of an NFL career must take the collegiate path. There is no minor league system like baseball. College football is the minor league system, so there is no other option.

Rosen’s opinions have led some to chastise him as “spoiled,” and reheat the familiar refrain that college student-athletes should feel lucky that they’re playing a sport to get through college, that regular students often work jobs to pay their way through.

Except that many NCAA sports are “equivalency” sports, meaning scholarships can be divided into partial awards, and those student-athletes on partial scholarship are still looking for ways to make up the difference. And the time that other students spend working those jobs, student-athletes spend practicing, watching film or in weight training. That’s their job.

And it’s quite lucrative to their schools. The Big 12 announced in June that its 10 teams would split $348 million in revenues for the 2016-17 academic year. That number should only rise with the return of the Big 12 football championship game, expected to generate as much as $30 million.

I can’t think of a single thing I did in four years as a college student that was worth in the same cosmos as eight figures in revenue. If student-athletes earn that type of money for their respective universities, they’ve also earned a voice and an opinion.

For their part, universities have moved toward lessening the time demands for student-athletes. Power 5 schools now have rules in place that mandate a day off a week from team activities during the season, two days off during the offseason and 14 days off at the conclusion of the season. Those schools should continue to help those student-athletes — most of them, as the NCAA loved saying in their commercials, going pro in something other than sports — to maximize their college experiences.

Rosen mentioned that, too, and those words should gain the most attention.

“When I’m finished with football, I want a seamless transition to life and work and what I’ve dreamed about doing all my life,” he told Hayes. “I want to own the world. Every young person should be able to have that dream and the ability to access it. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Contact Derek Redd at 304-348-1712 or derek.redd@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.