Rant with Randi: How should we define ‘Student Athlete?’

By Randi Crawford

Have you seen the movie “The Hunger Games”? The scene where Katniss Everdeen is paraded in front of thousands of people, with her long dress that bursts into flames while she’s twirling round and round like she’s on top of the world. But in reality, it’s all for show and what lies beneath is dirty and ugly. That’s sort of how I feel right now.

I love watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament more than any sporting event there is, but when I read that Shabazz Napier told reporters that he sometimes goes to bed starving because he can’t afford food it caught my attention. Obviously he’s not starving, but I thought to myself, could this be partially true? As I started digging, I realized that I was opening Pandora’s Box. The subject of whether or not a “student athlete” should be paid is not black and white. In fact, I learned that the term “student athlete” is the center of the controversy. A “student athlete” at a Division I school receives a world-class education for free, in exchange for his talent on the court, plus an opportunity to showcase his talents. Not to mention the players are treated like Gods around campus. That’s the “flaming dress” part, here’s what I found when I looked behind the dress.

I spoke with a good friend, (Tom Greis) who went to Villanova with my husband and me, and played basketball. Today, he’s an incredibly passionate sports fan who has walked a mile in these kids’ shoes. He believes that student athletes are indentured servants, and he gave me some things to consider when sorting this out: Men’s college basketball and football generates billions of dollars every year, with money coming from: ticket sales; sporting goods stores that sell players’ jerseys and memorabilia; video games (my son has all of them at $59 a pop) using the likeness and numbers of the athletes; corporate sponsors who provide shoes, clothing and drinks; and the biggest revenue provider, television. And with all the billions being generated, the “student athlete” sees none of it. Now, mind you, a “student athlete” is not allowed to go out and earn money using his likeness and/or his number. Does that seem right to you? Now hold on before you say, “Wait a minute Randi, they are getting a world-class education, publicity on national television, and have the possibility of going pro.” There’s much more to the story than all the glory.

There’s a misconception that a full scholarship takes care of everything, including simple things like gas money, toiletries, and clothing. A student who is on an academic scholarship has time to bring in some extra income, yet a full scholarship player can’t. Look at Mark Zuckerberg and his little side business.

Let’s talk about the world-class education, which is the compensation exchange for the talent on the court. A student athlete (who has to re-sign their contract annually) has their entire schedule mapped out for them with zero input. In 2003 the NCAA repealed a ruling, which set standards for SAT’s to get into school. Today, the “student athlete” no longer needs to achieve a certain score on their SAT or ACT scores, but the school does have to graduate at least half of the members of the team in order for these kids to play in the post season, such as the recent NCAA tournament.“Student athletes” are being given a course load to “keep them eligible.” You can read between the lines. An instructor at the University of North Carolina conducted research that showed 60 percent of basketball and football players read between 4th and 8th grade levels. Should these players even step foot on campus in the first place? We need Coach Carter.

How are we preparing them for jobs in the real world? These kids are all one hit or injury away from losing their scholarships and careers forever, and will have nothing to fall back on. That’s incredibly daunting.

Should “student athletes” get paid? Should they be allowed to earn money off their personal skill set and likeness? Should we add to “the list” of what their scholarship offers, including more money for food, clothing, gas and toiletries? And, how are we defining “student athlete?” I’d love your thoughts. Email me at