Three-and-Out Tax Could Promote Academics

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Mike Merrell”s Three-and-Out

That we seem to place highest value on being entertained is not the most flattering observation that could be made about our society. Unfortunately, it’s true. Who makes more money — the brain surgeon or the rock star? The university president or the NFL left tackle? The school teacher or the movie star? The guy cruising the ocean floor in charge of ten nuclear missiles or a backup forward in the NBA?

The guy in charge of this baby and its ten nuclear warheads makes way less than an NBA bench warmer.

The guy in charge of this baby and its ten nuclear warheads makes way less than an NBA bench warmer.

As much as we love our Ducks, it’s still a good idea to maintain a little perspective on what’s truly important — and educating people to do more than merely entertain us for a few years before retiring at age 29 is certainly a priority. In fact, that — and that alone — is the highest priority of higher education. This isn’t rocket surgery, yet too often, athletes — and we as fans — are lured away from this simple concept. The NFL and the NBA are highly to blame, and putting a damper on the “three-and-out” for college football and “one-and-out” for college basketball is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.

1. “Professional Athlete” is not a lifetime proposition. Forget that most college athletes never make it to the NFL, the NBA or the N-Anything-Else-that-Involves-Getting-Paid-to-Play-a-Game. The average career for an NFL player is between 3.2 and 6.86 years, depending on who’s doing the talking. So even under the most optimistic statistics, the average pro football player is done before he’s thirty years old. Undoubtedly, basketball players last longer, but since there are fewer of them, the number of people getting paid to play games past age thirty is not large.

2. College is about getting an education to last a lifetime. If someone is taking up space in college only to prepare himself to entertain us until he reaches age thirty, then he’s taking up space that would be better spent on someone else. Worse still — he’s getting a free ride to do it while those seeking the groundwork for a lifetime commitment to better mankind are often paying their own way.

The Jaqua Center stresses the importance of academics for athletes.

The Jaqua Center stresses the importance of academics for athletes.

It is to the NCAA’s credit that scholar-athletes have a higher graduation rate than the average student population. And it is certainly to the University of Oregon’s credit that it has established the Jaqua Center to help its scholar athletes contend with the dual demands of being students and athletes at the same time. Anybody who thinks it’s an easy road hasn’t been there.

There are those who are shining examples — athletes who resisted the lure of big bucks to leave before completing their degrees. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Hroniss Grasu, along with Wisconsin basketball star Frank Kaminsky, among others, all saw the priority of completing their undergraduate degrees.

But then, without naming names — since the list would be unmanageably long, anyway — there are those who cut their college years short, going one-and-out to the NBA or three-and-out to the NFL. I make no bones about their rights to do it. For the amount of money they make providing us with the entertainment that we seem to value so highly, I might have done the same had I ever had that sort of talent. But here’s the kicker: They took up college space that could have gone to someone serious about completing a degree.

3. Three-and-Out Tax. If the NCAA is serious about promoting the idea of completing an education, one thing it could do is impose a “Three-and-Out Tax” (or “One-and-Out Tax” for basketball). Basically, tell the athletes, “You want to leave early for the big bucks? Sorry, we thought you were here to get an education like everybody else, so tell you what: Pay back — to the general scholarship fund of your university — all of the grant-in-aid that you received while you were pretending that academics were ever a priority.”

It wouldn’t have to be a killer penalty to pay. Make it, say, 10 % of anything over $100,000 per year until the pro career is over or until the full grant in aid is paid back, whichever comes first. So the guy making $500,000 would have to put $40,000 back to his university, which is probably something he should be doing out of general gratitude anyway.

Jameis Winston shocked football fans everywhere by passing on completing his college education.

John Sperry

Jameis Winston shocked football fans everywhere by declining to complete his college education.

Even though the payback might not amount to a hill of beans in the overall scheme of things, it would provide a number of benefits. First, it would make a statement to the athletes about the importance of a college education. It might even give them pause to reflect upon what comes after their pro careers. Second, it would help finance college educations for at least a few students for whom the proposition is a financial struggle. And finally, it would affirm the idea that universities are places to go to get an education.

Athletes do get special treatment, and rightly so. They work their tails off and we enjoy watching their physical accomplishments. Hopefully we draw some inspiration from it and get up off the couch and do something for our own physical fitness. Still, if they are going to enroll in an institution of higher education, their first priority should be to get a degree that will help them contribute to society beyond age thirty. Those who get the full rides but aren’t there for the education should be given the opportunity to come clean and pay it back.

Top photo by Kevin Cline

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Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

  • J erry Havel

    I enjoy sports as much as the next person and have said for years that if an athlete attends a University, plays a sport with a scholarship he/she should earn a degree. If they leave early to play professional sports then they should pay that money back. It could then be applied to an Academic scholarship for STUDENTS that need financial help. I would think that would be a win/win situation. As an 83 year old graduate I have seen the seemingly dumbing down of America. We need more educated young people this might be a way to see that more would have a chance to be so.

    • Matthew Montgomery

      Unfortunately, the dumbing down of America has extended into the university level as well. There are many studies on this and the concept of a college degree today is more about saddling people with debt than it is with getting a degree. If you doubt this, ask yourself why a student loan cannot be discharged through bankruptcy? As the US Gov. issued more student loans, colleges went on a frenzy outgrowing their own manageability and then jacked up their tuition rates, ultimately to produce students with debt.

      I think this whole student athlete is there for school thing is a joke, but unfortunately, we built our entertainment into our education system. If a student is wise, they will finish and get their degree. If they want to go pro, let’s look at the averages (for a footballer): 3.2 years x 1.9MM (average earnings per year in NFL) = 6.08MM total earning in NFL. 6.08MM / $75,000/yr = 81 years. That is, I can go to college and not get a college degree – or at least, I could skip a year or two and go pro – and then play in the NFL and after I am done in 3.2 years, I can net out $75,000/yr for 81 years. So, why get a degree? Most of the degrees today are useless, devoid of any real critical thinking skills.

      Most schools don’t have self supporting athletic programs and in the end, if we wanted more balance within the schools, I don’t see why were aren’t going after the NCAA itself, who nets over 70MM a year off of athletes. Why not spread that money around to the schools to pay for the scholarships if they are athletic in nature and let the school pay for the scholarship if it is academic in nature. The less money they can give out for athletic scholarships, ultimately means more of a need for a semi-professional league (for football) and then we aren’t wondering why we mixed our education and entertainment.

  • fairweatherfoul

    Maybe the NCAA should change some of the rules regarding scholarship awards rather than punishing a mere child because he is required to play in college before he can turn pro. Show me a football coach who would turn down an entire team of guaranteed 3 and out players, or a basketball coach who wins a national championship with 5 freshmen, like Jud Heathcote in 1979. Calipari goes to the NCAA tournament every year with several one and done players. Tax him. He’s the one with the guaranteed contract for millions.

    For pro basketball they need to get rid of the Lebron rule and let players be drafted right out of high school, just like baseball players are. A few great players (Moses Malone, Lebron, etc.) and several journeyman players (Jermaine O’Neal, Al Harrington, others) have come out of high school and didn’t cheat others out of a year of scholarship living. I know Zach Randolph from his high school days. He can hardly read and write. Thanks to Tom Izzo, he took a year’s scholarship at Michigan State just so he could play professionally. It would have been impossible for him to graduate from college. He only graduated from high school because everyone who stays in high school for four years graduates these days.

    Of course, football is different. High school kids just aren’t big enough to play pro ball. In addition, football is a much more complicated game. Regardless, kids transfer from school to school and no one suggests the receiving university pay back the school that’s left behind. It seems much like the same situation as a kid leaving in 3 years.

    On the other hand, all the scholarship players have 5 years of scholarship to earn a 4 year degree. Maybe cutting one year of eligibility would be fair, too.

    For top rated college athletic programs, universities gets back much more money than they spend on scholarships. I doubt anyone would suggest a three and out tax on track, baseball or other sports that don’t pay their own way, like swimming (I’m an alum of Indiana University, Doc Counsilman’s team.)

    • Mike Merrell

      fairweatherfoul —

      Personally, I would also favor a cap on coaches’ salaries. It seems to me anybody should be able to live on a million or so per year — or better yet, tie any amounts over a set number (say, a million a year) to the number of non-revenue sports offered. As you well know, Title IX and the Football Arms Race have been tough on sports such as swimming, with the B1G generally being a rare exception. My step-daughter recently completed her swim career at Wisconsin. B1G swimming rocks!

      I would have no problem putting a three-and-out tax on swimmers or runners who drop out early and pull in over $100K per year. I was — and remain — very sorry to see the Olympic movement go pro. Seeing the same people go back to the trough four and five times, taking away the opportunity for new faces to ever have “firsts,” is unfortunate — especially in swimming where only two per country per event are allowed.

      It sounds like we’re close to the same era. I had the privilege of swimming against Don McKenzie (IU Class of 69, I believe) in masters competition before he passed. A true gentleman.

  • funduck

    Interesting point of view. I believe the scholarships are awarded on a year to year basis and with that said these kids are fulfilling their (contracts) agreements by getting their education for their contract. Maybe if the schools “guaranteed” the scholarships for the entire time it takes to get their degree then the student athlete would be morally obligated to fulfill his contract and get his degree. Seems to me the “Student-Athlete” shouldn’t be the one to pay until the school is the one to commit.