"The truth is," the then 22 year-old Jerry Evans told Sports Illustrated in April of 1991, "I came to college for one reason, to become eligible to play football. Personally, I just don't enjoy school. I know I should, but I don't. If they didn't have football here, I wouldn't have come."
Although the article was published nearly two decades ago, the message of it's subject, who would go on to play three relatively unproductive seasons in the NFL, sums up an ongoing debate between two seemingly polar opposite groups: Athletes and academics. As one of Evans' professors told SI, "He's a student-athlete. It's hard for the two to go together."
Most arguments regarding college football center around two main subjects: Who has the hottest co-eds, and whether athletes should get paid. Unfortunately, the bar always closes before a consensus is reached on either topic.
While some believe college athletes are plenty compensated for their services by receiving full scholarships from their respective universities, statements such as those made by Jerry Gray makes one question whether providing a person with an unwanted or otherwise incomplete education in exchange for athletic revenue is really fair after all.
Despite passionate and well-reasoned arguments against their existence, college football and college basketball aren't going anywhere. They are popular, profitable, and a deeply rooted part of the collegiate experience that will continue to loom large at universities across the country despite desperate calls from faculty committees that are struggling to keep their departments afloat. So in order to achieve some sort of credibility to the idea of a "student-athlete," perhaps it's time administrators think outside the box.
Here's one idea: Football should be offered as a major at universities.
On the surface this seems absurd, but once one moves beyond their disgust at a degree being awarded to Joe Schmoe for attaining a Bachelor of Science, high honors, in Football Studies, the idea is relatively sensible.
Many universities offer students the opportunity to major in leisure driven activities such as Theater, Music and Art, with the understanding that the students that major in these disciplines will be prepared to either practice them professionally or otherwise teach them to others upon graduation.
While only a small percentage of players are fortunate enough to play professionally after graduating from college, the opportunity to receive full education in the sport of football would provide athletes with not only an education in a topic they're interested in, but it would give them the preparation they need to coach the sport at the high school, collegiate or professional-level upon graduation.
The subject matter is certainly broad enough to fill a major. In fact, some offensive systems are so complicated that players could probably successfully petition for a foreign language credit after learning them.
This may seem like football overload, but in order to receive a degree, the player's would need to fill the same core requirements as every other student, ensuring that they receive as well-rounded an education as their peers at the university.
Plus, offering such a major just may make coaches take a genuine interest in the academic progress of their players. If a team's starting quarterback is on the verge of being suspended because they have difficulty with political science, a coach may be inclined to have the player just drop the class or otherwise look for a loophole, but if they're on the verge of being suspended because they didn't study the intricacies of how to properly read a cover 2 defense, the coach may just raise an eyebrow.
Providing football as a major may very well help diminish the racial divide that exists in coaching today. Although the majority of Division I-A college football players are black, only 11 out of 120 Division I-A programs have black head coaches. This pervasive discrepancy could possibly be narrowed if the majority black population that comprises the sport was given the opportunity to receive cumulative education in coaching, and if such an education became the benchmark for hiring.
It's an idea so obvious that it will never be implemented, but it does provide athletic world and the academic world with a semblance of something that they have continually failed to achieve: a compromise.