Can You Guarantee My Degree?

By Dr. Mark D Robinson
Updated: February 6, 2012

Who Dat!...Les Miles. Talking loud and saying nothing about a degree.

Who Dat!...Les Miles. Talking loud and saying nothing about a degree.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.(BASN)–Les Miles announced “there was a gentleman from Indiana that thought about coming to the Bayou state,” Miles said. “He did not necessarily have the chest and the ability to lead a program, so you know,” he added to applause.

National signing day should really focus on academics not the sport of Football or basketball however all the excitement of the day provides a complete understanding of why athletes themselves take such a lack-luster approach towards their academics once they arrive on campus. Coach Miles could have referred to the players desire to stay closer to home or that the player wanted to major in a field not offered at LSU. But instead he was honest and told the public what they needed to hear going to college for some athletes and coaches is all about the sport not the academics.

I think everyone can agree yes student athletes should be paid for what they do. However due to the magnitude and complexity of revenues and expenditures of individual athletic departments around the country, paying athletes would be next to impossible. Bottom line on this issue, can we pay the basketball players at Duke University more than the basketball players attending The University of San Francisco? Duke basketball has a larger budget and brings in more revenue than USF basketball. Of course we couldn’t so let’s scrap the idea and move on to something that is more attainable for all athletic departments and more importantly the Student Athlete.

The argument for the guaranteed degree needs to be revisited and financially seriously explored before anyone else begins to backtrack and suggest student athletes should be paid, that argument has not moved for years and signs pointing towards athletes being paid are nonexistent. Although athletes do not and will not receive pay for their services, one thing they need more than financial compensation is a nationally recognized, NCAA approved program, which focuses on degree completion. If student athlete success (in the classroom) is one of the most important aspects of college sports the NCAA membership needs to become more serious about degree completion as a whole and stop relying on individual institutions to deliver in house programs.

Many athletic programs around the country have degree completion programs in which they bring back former players and assist them in completing their academic requirements. These are great programs and serve former student athletes well. However, these programs are not mandatory nor observed by the NCAA membership and many have a variety of restrictions and issues, which prevent players who desire to complete their degree the opportunity.

Location and finances are the two biggest obstacles I have encounter when trying to assist former student athlete in completing their academic requirements. Many of these programs require the athlete to return back to campus and finish coursework in the classroom. Former athletes really don’t desire returning back to campus to complete the degree due to either personal, family or work obligations, which all prevent the former athlete from completing coursework.

Most institutions require a student to complete at least the last 24 units at the home institution. Therefore, if a former athlete wanted to complete his/her degree requirements at an institution close to his/her current residence the degree will not be awarded from the home institution where they competed in sport.

In the January 9, 2011 commentary section of the Chronicle Bruce Smith gave his thoughts on paying college athletes as well as a solution to the problem. His position, “grant every scholarship athlete a chit, or voucher, redeemable for five years of free education and living expenses at the university that signs him or her to play a sport”. Although, this is not likely going to happen in my lifetime it is a good start to a different type of debate on paying college athletes. I like the idea of a lifetime commitment however I am not sold on the idea of the university entitling an athlete to one year of free education and living expenses eventually allowing the athlete up to five additional years of free education.

Generally BA degree requirements range between 124-128 units of course work. If a student athlete completes 12 units per semester over a four-year timeline (8×12) he/she will have a total of 96 units, 28 shy of what is needed to graduate. Therefore, these remaining 28 units are where debaters on both sides should focus and push for an in kind guarantee for the degree. This scenario excludes possible units a student athlete could complete during a summer session. What is the problem with the NCAA and its member institutions initiating a guarantee degree program from the revenue they receive? The amount of money it would cost to ensure student athletes obtain their degree would be small compared to the amount of revenue some conferences or institutions receive from television rights and endorsement deals.

The Lifetime Guaranteed Degree Completion Program The NCAA membership could propose a bylaw that would require all NCAA institutions to have a lifetime guaranteed degree completion program for athletes who finish their athletic ability at a particular institution and has 28 units or less to complete degree requirements.

The program would allow any former athlete the opportunity to complete his/her degree at the institutions expense and do so at any NCAA member institutions providing the institution of choice offers the necessary courses needed to complete the degree. Athletes who move abroad should be allowed to complete requirements online.

The entire program should be administered by an outside organization, which will work in conjunction with the NCAA and the member institutions to ensure transparency and accountability. This outside organization will be charged with contacting former athletes informing them of their degree status and how they qualify for the program as well as providing the necessary assistance to ensure completion is successful.

Funding any national program is always an issue; therefore a small percentage of all revenue received from all NCAA member sporting activity should be allocated to this national program. As mentioned this organization would be responsible for ensuring transparency and accountability but more importantly will have the responsibility of generating program revenue specifically for degree completion.

Finally, national signing day should offer more than the opportunity to play sport. The letter of intent should be a letter guaranteeing the student athlete’s degree providing the student athlete has completed a minimum number of units. This would be a start to ensuring the graduation rate for black athletes increases.

Mark D Robinson is a consultant on Personal Player Development and Well-being helping individuals and organizations transition from one phase of development to another.