Wednesday, August 9, 2017

That athletic bubble

Josh Rosen is 20 years old, and he is a star football player at a Power 5 football school. And so put it down to simple youthful ignorance, not youthful arrogance, when he says some of the things he says.

What UCLA's junior quarterback said the other day, among other things, was that football and school are not compatible.

"They just don't (go together)," he said in an interview with Bleacher Report. "Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs. There are guys who have no business being in school, but they're here because this is the path to the NFL. There's no other way."

Rosen is right about the latter, of course. That there are those who are in college only to get to the NFL -- or the NBA -- is self-evident and has been for a long time, because that's the way the system is set up. Those aforementioned guys  didn't create it. They can only negotiate it to their perceived best advantage.

For that reason, Rosen is also right when he says the prerogatives of high-dollar college football do not line up very well with a university's traditional mission, which is to provide a high-end education. And so when he says if you raise the SAT requirements at, say, Alabama (currently the pre-eminent football factory), the product will be hurt. And the product is all. Academic rigor exists only so far as the product is required to acknowledge it.

Where Rosen is wrong is when he says individual student-athletes can't marry the two anyway. They do all the time. More to the point, students who aren't athletes do it all the time.

College campuses -- even UCLA -- are full of young people who are doing what Rosen says can't be done. Playing football and going to school are like trying to do two full-time jobs? There are students walking around who do far more than that. They're going to school, and they're also working -- sometimes more than one job. And they're doing that because it's the only way they can afford to do what Rosen gets for free.

Rosen misses that essential fact, which should come as no surprise. He is 20 years old, with the limited perspective that comes with that. And for most of his young life, he has lived inside an elite athletic bubble that distorts almost every reality.

What that means is he has no more in common with the general population at UCLA than a Wall Street hedge fund pirate has with the people who do the real work in this country. So how could we expect him to say anything but what he said?

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