Here’s an inconvenient truth about college athletics that many in track and field will find uncomfortable. Non-revenue sports (everything that isn’t men and women’s basketball or football including track and cross country) that are primarily made up of white athletes, are subsidized by revenue sports that are primarily made up of black athletes. In other words and in many cases, black athletes’ work is paying for white athletes to go to college.
Or as former NCAA 10K champion Victoria Jackson calls it, a 21st century Jim Crow.
I highly recommend you read the piece above before you go any further. She puts on paper what I have felt for a long time but just couldn’t really put into words.
Many a time, throughout my collegiate career, I would debate my cross country coaches on why revenue sport athletes should be paid. Their counter argument was always “Well if basketball and football players get paid then you lose track and field.”
My response? “Fine. So be it.”
I couldn’t figure out why it was so easy for me to just forego NCAA track and field. I mean, I had benefited from the system. I earned a five year scholarship to a great institution, received a great education, found a career in the exact field I’ve always envisioned myself in, and I left college with zero debt.
And then I realized that most of my collegiate athlete peers wouldn’t have that same luxury. My friends on the football team and basketball teams couldn’t claim they were getting a great education. How could they? How do you pay attention in class when you’re fighting off sleep after the morning weights session? How do you take notes in class when you’re expected to study film for your Saturday game? How does basketball get a great education when every other week they’re missing class from Wednesday-Friday because the NCAA schedules games on Thursdays?
The NCAA rules limit Countable Athletically Related Activities (CARA) hours at 20 hours per week. And at face value, I’m sure many track and field athletes stayed well below the 20 hour threshold. Unless, you needed treatment. Or needed an ice bath. Or went out for a morning double. Or needed to go to the doctor. But hey those don’t count.
What about our compatriots in football and basketball? Do you think they stay below that 20 hour threshold? What, with film sessions, weight sessions, travel days, long tournaments (that are conventionally only counted as 3 hours, regardless of duration)? I think it’s fair to say that to be a successful athlete you need to spend more than 20 hours a week, and that inevitably cuts into valuable academic time.
The argument against paying athletes made by the NCAA apparatus is that football players and basketball players get a great education. Clearly, that is not the case.
It is uncomfortable to admit that I, as a former track and field athlete, have gained from a system that has taken from others. It’s hard for me to look at people I know I graduated with struggle to find jobs in fields they were never interested in in the first place, with degrees they chased only because they fit their athletic demands.
But the most uncomfortable part is the racial undertones that exist. The Jim Crow and plantation analogies are, unfortunately true. Predominantly white athletes in sports like cross country (75.9% white) and track and field (62.8% white for outdoor track) are given a chance at great educations on the backs of predominantly black athletes. It is a truth that we must reconcile with and be able to challenge the status quo.
Is it tough? Yeah.
So be it.