Vic Koenning’s Troubles Reflect the Injustice of College Football

Data released by the NCAA in 2018 revealed that nearly a quarter of FBS football players — 22% — never earn a college degree. Among FCS football players, the number is 24%.  The figures for Division II are even worse: 49% never earn their degree.

When race is considered, the gap between academic achievement and failure becomes a canyon.  The Institute for Diversity and Ethics and Sport reported a 90% graduation rate for white football players, but only a 73% graduation rate for players of color.

Meanwhile, the average FBS head coach makes $2.67 million a year — a 9% increase from 2018, and a dramatic increase over the last 10 years.  In that same period, assistant coaches’ salaries skyrocketed, making many disinclined to climb the coaching ladder and pursue head coaching opportunities.

College football is a story of haves and have-nots: Power 5 programs with television contracts that would make a network star blush, while FCS teams fill vacancies in the haves’ schedule for a paycheck and an opportunity to upgrade crumbling facilities, hoping to escape these games with their roster more or less intact.

So it shouldn’t surprise any of us that people at the very top of this wildly unequal pyramid — college football’s coaches — are out-of-touch with the lives of their student athletes.  Mike Gundy and Dabo Swinney’s wardrobe malfunctions  (OANN and “Football Matters” shirts, respectively), and the allegations against both Clemson assistant coach Danny Pearman and Vic Koenning, over use of racial slurs, are just the most obvious manifestations of a college sports caste: a class that doesn’t recognize the off-the-field struggles of its majority minority teams, and clearly doesn’t mind returning them, broken and unskilled, to the world they thought they had left behind.

One of my professors, who had played for Cal during its heyday of the early 80’s, once joked that the guys that he played with “majored in eligibility.”  For far too many college athletes, sacrificing their bodies and their future health, college football’s system of exploitation is no laughing matter.  Making them a captive audience to the proselytizing and bigoted attitudes of coaches, who are literally making a fortune off of their uncompensated labor, adds insult to injury.

They need a reality check, not another payday.