You can put former presidential candidate Ralph Nader in the growing list of politicians who feel they know — and will relentlessly tell you that they know — what’s best for college football.
But, unlike some of his other friends on Capitol Hill, Nader isn’t advocating a college football playoff.
Or, more specifically, replace athletic scholarships with need-based financial aid in the hopes of reducing the “win at all costs” mentality that exists in college football. A mentality that, according to Nader, treats players as professionals — minus the millions of dollars — rather than student-athletes.
“They are students, just like any other student on campus who receives a merit-based scholarship,” Nader said. “An entire industry has developed in the youth sports arena — club teams, personal trainers, etc. — to prey on families’ dreams of an athletic scholarship. The lure of the elusive athletic scholarship is the primary — sometimes the only — marketing tool these youth sports entrepreneurs use.”
Technically, athletic scholarships still serve a purpose: they provide the means for an athlete to advance themselves through higher education. But how many football players really take full advantage of that opportunity? I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I imagine they’re not 100 percent.
Or, anywhere near it, for that matter.
Nader also suggests that, if removing athletic scholarships doesn’t work (which it won’t), schools should “openly acknowledge the professionalism in big-time college sports, remove the tax-exempt status currently given to athletic departments, and make universities operate them as unrelated businesses.”
College football is definitely a business, but I’m not sure how realistic — though interesting — Nader’s ideas are. In the FCS, the Patriot, Ivy and Pioneer leagues do not hand out athletic scholarships for football (although the Patriot League does give athletic scholarships in non-football sports).
The question would become whether or not that type of structure could work in places like, oh, the SEC. The Ivy and Patriot leagues are conferences who truly still pursue the idea that players are students first, a stark contrast from most big-time college football programs.