Last June, outspoken former North Carolina distance runner Victoria Jackson was in the news, using her blog to write about her frustrations with how UNC was handling its academic scandal.
In January, she wrote an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times. In it she claims non-revenue scholarship athletes, like she once was, have life much easier than the football and basketball players.
And that’s why Jackson - now a sports historian at Arizona State - wrote that she wouldn’t be watching any basketball this spring, including March Madness.
“I can't endorse a system that exploits football and basketball players so that ‘nonrevenue’ athletes like me — runners, tennis players, golfers, gymnasts, swimmers — can both play and study,” she wrote.
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Jackson said that while the non-revenue athletes - whom she calls the real beneficiaries of college sports - can pursue “quality” degrees, the demands made of football and basketball players make it difficult for them to do the same thing.
Jackson said she never spent more than 20 hours per week practicing and playing, and her coaches always made academics a priority. As a grad student at Arizona State, for example, she was a NCAA national champion in the 10,000 meters.
Jackson said her football and basketball counterparts spent 50-60 hours per week on sports. Quoting a published study, she notes that many non-revenue athletes are white, while many revenue sports athletes are black.
That study on race and sports conducted by Dr. Shaun R. Harper found that at UNC black men represented 2.8 percent of undergraduate students but 62 percent of football and basketball players. At N.C. State, the numbers were 3.1 and 68.9 percent.
“They frequently are enrolled in easy, sometimes fraudulent courses to maintain their eligibility and often don't graduate,” Jackson writes. “NCAA rules stipulate that they cannot not be paid, despite the massive amounts of money their athletic performances generate. Instead, some of those dollars subsidize idyllic student-athlete experiences like mine.
“I embraced the weekly grind of the college athlete lifestyle, much like they did. I hit hard workouts, lifted weights and completed my prehab and rehab in the training room. But, unlike them, my sport responsibilities ended there. While they memorized playbooks, studied films and fulfilled media obligations, I escaped to the library in what became a love affair with history.”
Ultimately, Jackson said the NCAA’s current system is exploiting black male athletes, not paying them, and often leaving them without a college degree at the end of the journey.
“Let's be real,” she writes. “In big-time college sports, majority-black teams entertain majority-white crowds. Mostly white head coaches make millions, and the mostly black players don't make any money beyond their scholarships. These students have little time for academics and therefore don't graduate at the same rates as the general student body or the non-revenue athlete peers.
“This college sports system contributes to the undervaluing of black lives in American society and our institutions. The predominantly white privilege of playing college sports while earning a quality degree comes at the expense of — is literally paid for by — the educationally unequal experiences of mostly black football and basketball players.”