UCF athletics director Terry Mohajir’s voice begins to rise.
With each sentence, the decibel level increases as he talks about how a scholarship, an education and a degree have become punchlines in the national discussion about college athletics.
Mohajir is frustrated.
“We have to continue to keep our student-athletes and their education at the top of mind,” Mohajir is telling me during a recent interview. “But when I say something like that, everybody says that’s a bunch of athletic director BS Well, it’s not BS; it’s why many of us got into this business. Somehow, we have allowed education to be devalued in college sports. We’ve allowed the media to devalue it. We’ve allowed the trial lawyers to devalue it. We’ve allowed our national leaders to NOT talk nearly enough about it.”
He’s right, you know.
Many college football fans and media members roll their eyes when they hear terms such as “student-athlete” and “graduation rate.” Or they snicker when ADs talk about the “educational opportunities” provided by college athletics.
Education has been lost in the current narrative about college athletics. All we talk about today is how many millions more in media-rights money will a school make if it jumps from one conference to another. Or how much more annual salary a coach will make on his multi-year, mega-million-dollar contract extension. Or how much “NIL” money will the rival booster collectives ante up to lure the next 5-star recruit from the IMG Academy.
What happened to the true mission of intercollegiate athletics? What happened to the original concept of college sports as an exhausted pathway on an otherwise dead-end street for high school athletes seeking to get a college degree?
Sigh, I guess you could say the noble ideal of college sports disappeared more than a century ago when Amos Alonzo Stagg arrived at the University of Chicago and started offering inducement money to football recruits in 1892. By the time the 1920s rolled around, legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne lamented that college football recruiting had gotten out of control.
Said Rockne back then: “I think it would be a wonderful thing if a coach could just forget about all of the high school and prep school wonders of the world and develop a team from among the students of his institution who came to his school because he liked it best, not because of any attractive offers made for athletic ability.”
Of course, Rockne’s wishful thinking seems even more laughable today when our major institutions of higher earning are paying $10 million a year for someone to coach their team and $20 million contract buyouts for someone NOT to coach their team.
Despite college football’s unending arms race to build more palatial facilities, hire more support staff and raise more NIL money, I still believe Mohajir is right. The real story of college athletics isn’t being told. In reality, over the years football, baseball, basketball, softball, volleyball, gymnastics, track and field, etc., have been a boon for millions of athletes.
“Besides the GI Bill, there has never been a scholarship program to help the youth of America change their family’s circumstances more than intercollegiate athletics,” Mohajir says. “We don’t talk enough about how much good comes from college sports.”
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We just celebrated the 50-year anniversary of Title IX — the landmark legislation that opened the door for female athletes to have the same rights and scholarship opportunities as their male counterparts. Think of the hundreds of thousands of young women who have earned college degrees in the last half-century because they got a scholarship to play sports.
As someone who has put two daughters through college, I’ve always felt that the value of a full-ride college education has been severely diminished by the national media that cover college athletics. If you’re scoring at home, NCAA institutions provide nearly $4 billion in athletic scholarships annually to more than 180,000 student-athletes. Many of these athletes would not have the financial wherewithal or academic credentials to get into college without sports.
And it’s certainly no secret that 99 percent of these athletes will not play professionally and therefore will go into the real-world job market after graduation.
Mohajir himself was one of those athletes. He credits most everything he has accomplished in life with getting a football scholarship to Arkansas State. When he was first introduced as UCF’s athletics director last year, one of the first things he said was, “The ability to get a scholarship to keep me disciplined and on track, that allowed me to see I could use college athletics as a means to get to where I want to be.”
It’s why Mohajir is guaranteeing a job or graduate-school placement for every student-athlete who gets his degree from UCF. In one form or another, I’ve heard Mohajir say numerous times, “Why do we go to college? To get an education, get a degree and, as an end result, to get a job, right? Whether it be in professional sports or something else, the end result is we get a job so we can support a family.”
Sadly, that message has been lost amid the clamoring of mega-conference expansion, NIL inducements and transfer-portal hysteria.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 am on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2