School vs. football: the fuss over Cardale Jones


Normally the thoughts and complaints of third-string freshman quarterbacks who have had nonexistent playing time would not be news. However, this time is different.

Cardale Jones, a freshman recruit at Ohio State University, made one of the most powerful and cogent critiques of the exploitative college athletic system in under 140 characters on Twitter.

Just a few days ago Jones tweeted, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”

Many journalists and sportswriters have attacked Jones for being thoughtless and/or immature. Personal attacks aside, most of the stories on this topic have failed to see whether or not his statements about classes and “play[ing] school” have some basis in reality.

The institution of college sports has forced universities into a role of diminishing educational opportunities while consistently finding funds to participate in an endless “arms race” for athletics.

Instead of organizing a truly independent and paid-for minor league system for the NBA and NFL, the leagues and the NCAA have been able to get universities to channel billions into the college sports venture, at the expense of the institutions’ central academic mission.

As universities across the nation are seeing budget cuts, staff layoffs/furloughs, increasing class sizes and skyrocketing tuition costs, many of these same schools have been able to find many millions of dollars to lavish on top-tier coaches for their football or basketball programs.

The “arms race” extends to facilities as well. For example, the University of Missouri sought to close the university printing press due to lack of funds. At the same time, the school was spending millions to refurbish and expand its football stadium. Of course, similar expenditure choices are taking place at universities all over the country.

However simplistic, Jones’ tweet about “play[ing] school” seems to ring true when one looks at the realities that have subverted the supposedly core academic purpose of our nations colleges and universities.

One can rightfully criticize Jones for saying that “classes are pointless,” but his point is not without merit. Too often universities don’t appear to care whether or not the student athletes actually learn anything, but only that they go through the motions to maintain their eligibility.

There have been myriad scandals about player grade manipulation and academic dishonesty, with the most recent coming out of the University of North Carolina. Examples like this show how tragically common it is that colleges, instead of focusing on properly educating their student athletes, just focus on making sure that these young athletes maintain their ability to play on the court or field and make money for the school.

It is also true that many schools are having to develop tutoring programs to accommodate the number of players who lack basic skills like being able to read at even a junior high grade level. Such actions undercut the academic standards of the school in the name of the profit motive.

What Jones did, inadvertently or not, was highlight the very real hypocrisy and exploitation at the heart of the college sports industry.

Ultimately, he and some other players went to college, not because they wanted to attend college, but because they wanted to play football. Yet, for all the value they produce, they see no compensation.

Scholarships fail as compensation because there is no vested interest in ensuring the student athlete learns anything. Most scholarships also fail to cover the true cost of living at campuses.

Schools focus on a mythological ideal of amateurism and jump through ridiculously convoluted hoops to ensure that the cash keeps flowing to everybody except the students.

As Jones said, some came to play football. It is time to acknowledge the facts, pay the athletes for their labor and restore greater integrity and honesty to the higher education system.

Photo: Andrew Whitis // CC 2.0



Neil Parthun
Neil Parthun

Neil Parthun is an activist and a sports fan. He attempts to bring these two worlds together with his weekly radio show/podcast/TV show "Not Another Sports Show" and with his writing. His goal is to help build a space that shows people can care about both social justice and sports.