October 11, 2012
College athletics is normally treated as a sham compared to the regular college experience. Student athletes tend to take easier classes, end up with full scholarships to their school of choice and end up with money in their pockets despite the lack of a part-time job or anything of the sort.
Before the recent implementation of a policy that prohibited teams from postseason play if they failed to meet NCAA standards, there was a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” mentality among major schools regarding their graduation rate for athletes compared to students in general: after all, most athletes leave school early, so they wouldn’t get their degree within the normal four years, right?
The majority of the time, the topic of conversation is one left for academicians and others who feel that college athletes get far too easy a ride. That is, until Friday. What transpired Friday afternoon in the matter of a few hours thrust the entire issue into the white hot spotlight of full blown media coverage and left a major university already reeling from recent scandal with egg on its face once again.
Ohio State, having tried to put the Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor and other scandals relating to the selling of memorabilia and illegal booster activities behind them with the hiring of Urban Meyer, was blindsided by a post on the Twitter account of third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. Jones put the following tweet up Friday:
“Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”
The offensive statement was not around for long: shortly after the fact, Jones’ tweet and entire Twitter account were deleted. In this day and age, it didn’t matter, as the damage was already done: media outlets far and wide had already grabbed screenshots of the statement. It quickly spun out of control, with everyone from ESPN to the Huffington Post chiming in about the sheer lunacy of Jones’ statement. There was a deluge of comments, many of them offensive on some level, funny in others and some that were outright racist.
The school reacted, as it pretty much had to, though the immediate ramifications of Jones’ actions were not as severe as one may expect. Jones, who had suited up for all of Ohio State’s games leading up to Saturday’s 63-38 win over #21 Nebraska, was suspended for the game. It wasn’t as if the Buckeyes needed Jones: he hasn’t been on the field at all this season. He’s the third-string quarterback behind starter Braxton Miller and second-stringer Kenny Guiton.
The university released the following statement late Friday, following the firestorm of controversy that originated from Jones’ outburst:
“We allow our student-athletes the opportunity to express themselves via the social mediums. What we do ask of them and communicate to them is the importance of being respectful, appropriate and aware that their communications can impact many people. We remind that others may have different views and opinions on what may and may not be appropriate, so always remember not to post or tweet anything that could embarrass themselves, their team, teammates, the university, their family or other groups, organizations or people.”
Jones was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school, though he had to spend a year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia to improve his academic standing. He has the physical tools to play quarterback at 6’5, 226 pounds and was the 12th rated quarterback coming of high school.
Jones’ statements threw the entire concept of “student” athletes into the public eye. They attend prominent schools in order to try and get themselves in the best possible position to make an impact and get themselves to the next level, in this case the NFL. While it would be unfair to classify all student athletes as to be of the same mentality as Jones, it’s safe to say that he isn’t alone.
Let’s take a look at some of the major numbers that fall in with things here. For starters, Ohio State’s football program is a major moneymaker for the university: it generated $61 million for the school last season. That kind of money substantiates the claim that Gordon Gee made famously in recent years: Ohio State and other major schools aren’t the “Little Sisters of the Poor.” Plenty of athletes do actually take their education seriously and work towards a degree in something that will either help them succeed in their post-athletic career or immediately after they finish college.
In a recent ESPN “30 for 30” documentary entitled “Broke”, it was said that 78 percent of NFL players are either bankrupt or under serious financial stress within two years of retiring. Meanwhile, 60 percent of NBA players are estimated to be financially insolvent within five years of retiring from the league. Those are sobering numbers by any standard, much less when you look at someone like Jones underscoring the apathetic look at academics by some of the students today.
There was a major outcry among people reacting to the story to have Ohio State rescind Jones’ scholarship. After all, getting a free ride at a school that costs $47,000 a year is nothing to sneeze at and it may be easier to placate the growing lynch mob to make an example of Jones instead of letting it slide. A one game suspension for a player that has not played a down for the team isn’t likely to make much of an impact. After all, how much of a blow is that to a guy that hasn’t even PLAYED as of yet?
It may be considered a refreshing perspective to some that Jones made such a bold statement via social media. Many would think that it would be a slap in the face, not just to other students but to the NCAA as a whole. Clearly, there was some legitimacy to both stances: Jones was merely breaking the proverbial fourth wall by voicing his opinion but chose the wrong manner in which to state his two cents.
You have to sit and think long and hard as to how to deal with this situation if you’re the university. If you rescind Jones’ scholarship, which seems the best course of action given the fact that he doesn’t take an education seriously, there is the potential for major backlash from alumni and boosters who may feel that Jones has the talent to make an impact on the field for the Buckeyes in the coming years. If they do nothing and Jones stays in school, the university will be lambasted for putting the ability to throw a ball or run quickly over the ability to make a difference in a different field. Even worse for Ohio State, it would show complacency in the system and send the wrong message to future students contemplating applying.
There is no right or wrong answer to what took place. Jones has the right to speak his mind. He may have overlooked the fact that just because you have that ability, it doesn’t mean that everyone is going to agree with what you have to say or that other people will be quiet about it. This was a case of the mouth, or in this case, the fingers on the keyboard, engaging before a fully completed thought process took place.
The ball is in your court, Ohio State. What are you going to do about this situation? Inquiring minds, and the media, want to know.