UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen recently made waves by articulating hard but obvious truths about college football, a multi-billion-dollar business built on the outdated notion that football is an extracurricular activity. The fact that Rosen is catching some heat for it doesn’t make his remarks any less accurate.
“Look, football and school don’t go together,” Rosen told Matt Hayes of BleacherReport.com. “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 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.”
Appearing on Wednesday’s Dan Patrick Show, UCLA coach Jim Mora said he doesn’t know why Rosen mentioned Alabama. It likely wasn’t malicious or gratuitous; Rosen was simply making his point by pointing to the program that currently is viewed as the best in the nation. Rosen’s comments apply equally to all major-college programs.
“It’s not that they shouldn’t be in school,” Rosen told Hayes. “Human beings don’t belong in school with our schedules. No one in their right mind should have a football player’s schedule, and go to school. It’s not that some players shouldn’t be in school; it’s just that universities should help them more — instead of just finding ways to keep them eligible.
“Any time any player puts into school will take away from the time they could put into football. They don’t realize that they’re getting screwed until it’s too late. You have a bunch of people at the universities who are supposed to help you out, and they’re more interested in helping you stay eligible. At some point, universities have to do more to prepare players for university life and help them succeed beyond football. There’s so much money being made in this sport. It’s a crime to not do everything you can to help the people who are making it for those who are spending it.”
Amen to that. Complaints about players not being paid routinely are met with reminders that they get a free education. But if they can’t take full advantage of that education due to the demands of football, are they really getting what they bargained for?
Of course, the eventual NFL payday can go a long way toward rectifying that problem.
“Some do [get paid to play in the NFL], absolutely,” Rosen said. “What about those who don’t? What did they get for laying their body on the line play after play while universities make millions upon millions? People criticize when guys leave early for the NFL draft, and then rip them when some guys who leave early don’t get drafted. ‘Why did you leave school if you weren’t going to get drafted?’ I’ll tell you why: Because for a lot of guys, there is no other option. They were either leaving early [for the NFL] or flunking out. To me, that’s a problem within the system and the way we’re preparing student-athletes for the future away from football. Everyone has to be part of the process.”
If you doubt any of Rosen’s comments, go watch Last Chance U on Netflix. The excellent, gritty, and very real documentary focuses on a junior college that has one goal (beyond winning the JUCO national championship every year): Getting players to Division I programs so that they can eventually get to the NFL. Education is an afterthought, with the primary objective focused on getting the player to a 2.5 GPA so that he’ll be eligible to attend a major college.
The reaction by some to Rosen is somewhat surprising. Chargers quarterback Cardale Jones, who once claimed that he didn’t go to Ohio State to “play school” told Rosen via Twitter, “Chill bro, play school.” Others, from former NFL quarterback Danny Kanell to current Rams backup Dan Orlovsky, have challenged Rosen’s opinions.
But here’s where Rosen is right on the money: For most kids in the 18-21 age range, full-time college football and full-time college education don’t easily mix. I took a part-time job on campus while in college and quickly realized that I didn’t have the capacity at that age to work part of the time and study most of the time. For football players, the physical demands, the mental demands, the total time invested, the travel, the games, and everything else distract from the “student” aspect of what started as “student-athlete” and is now, for most major schools, an unpaid professional athlete who must spend his free time dragging his ass to classes that he really doesn’t want to take in order to remain eligible to keep playing football for free in the hopes of eventually getting paid to play football.
Until that system fundamentally changes, this basic reality of life as a football player at a major school won’t. And kudos to Rosen for ditching the cliches and opting for candor.