Josh Rosen isn’t a stranger to courting controversy.
Between the hot-tub escapades, the political golf statements, and mentioning that hey, that’s a pretty nice apparel deal you just signed, shame none of the players will see a dime of it, Rosen has been the subject of some heated discussions during his time at UCLA. In that context, is it really surprising that, when Bleacher Report put a microphone in front of him, Josh would say something that would get people all hot and bothered?
B/R: Look at the bright side: You got a chance to heal, maybe catch up on school.
Rosen: Don't get me started. I love school, but it's hard. It's cool because we're learning more applicable stuff in my major (Economics)—not just the prerequisite stuff that's designed to filter out people. But football really dents my ability to take some classes that I need. There are a bunch of classes that are only offered one time. There was a class this spring I had to take, but there was a conflict with spring football, so...
B/R: So football wins out?
Rosen: Well, you can say that.
B/R: So that's reality for student-athletes playing at a major university?
Rosen: I didn't say that, you did. (Laughs.) Look, football and school don't go together. They just don't. 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. Then there's the other side that says raise the SAT eligibility requirements. OK, raise the SAT requirement at Alabama and see what kind of team they have. You lose athletes and then the product on the field suffers.
B/R: Wait, some players shouldn't be in school?
Rosen: It's not that they shouldn't be in school. Human beings don't belong in school with our schedules. No one in their right mind should have a football player's schedule, and go to school. It's not that some players shouldn't be in school; it's just that universities should help them more—instead of just finding ways to keep them eligible.
Any time any player puts into school will take away from the time they could put into football. They don't realize that they're getting screwed until it's too late. You have a bunch of people at the universities who are supposed to help you out, and they're more interested in helping you stay eligible. At some point, universities have to do more to prepare players for university life and help them succeed beyond football. There's so much money being made in this sport. It's a crime to not do everything you can to help the people who are making it for those who are spending it.
B/R: But those same players go make money in the NFL after being prepared by their college programs.
Rosen: Some do, absolutely. What about those who don't? What did they get for laying their body on the line play after play while universities make millions upon millions? People criticize when guys leave early for the NFL draft, and then rip them when some guys who leave early don't get drafted. [They say,] "Why did you leave school if you weren't going to get drafted?" I'll tell you why: Because for a lot of guys, there is no other option. They were either leaving early (for the NFL) or flunking out. To me, that's a problem within the system and the way we're preparing student-athletes for the future away from football. Everyone has to be part of the process.
B/R: How is it, then, that some guys graduate in three years? Deshaun Watson graduated in three years from Clemson. So did his roommate, Artavis Scott.
Rosen: I'm not knocking what those guys accomplished. They should be applauded for that. But certain schools are easier than others.
B/R: It can't be that simple.
Rosen: If I wanted to graduate in three years, I'd just get a sociology degree. I want to get my MBA. I want to create my own business. When I'm finished with football, I want a seamless transition to life and work and what I've dreamed about doing all my life. I want to own the world. Every young person should be able to have that dream and the ability to access it. I don't think that's too much to ask.
At first glance, I can absolutely see why people got upset. Certainly Alabama fans got upset because HOW DARE HE QUESTION THE MIGHT OF THE CRIMSON TIDE. Others are upset because they held a full-time job during school and how dare this prima-donna complain about getting “paid” to play football and getting an education (for reference, I am also one of those people with the full-time job and full-time school).
But Josh Rosen is absolutely correct here.
I think part of the problem is that some people still believe, on some level, in the NCAA’s tagline that they’re preparing student-athletes for life after sports, and for many sports that remains true! But that hasn’t been true for college football for a few decades, for a multitude of reasons that I am ill-equipped to tackle in this article. Suffice to say, at some point in the recent past the calculus for schools changed, where football players stopped being students and became commodities that needed to be maintained.
Let’s not kid ourselves on a few points: the NCAA, thanks to college football in particular, is a billion-dollar industry. UCLA itself just started a $280 million deal with Under Armour that is the largest in the nation, and none of this mentions the ballooning television distribution deals the conferences have been signing for the past few years. These profits have, in turn, gone towards the maintenance of the primary commodity driving this engine: the players; but not so much towards their educations. Money has been funneled into coaching salaries, into new facilities so that players can become faster and stronger and thus the teams become better and make more money, all while the athletes themselves receive the short end of the stick on their education.
Rosen even addresses this during the interview: he mentions if he wanted the easy way out, he’d have been a Sociology major (no offense to Sociology majors reading this - I’m sure you worked very hard to get that degree). But the rigors of football make pursuing some majors almost-impossible; Rosen mentions that he had to pass on taking a required class because it conflicted with spring practice. The rising business of college football has created a culture where schools are essentially incentivized to just make sure their student-athletes are eligible to play. Rosen mentions that “any time any player puts into school will take away from the time they could put into football. They don't realize that they're getting screwed until it's too late. You have a bunch of people at the universities who are supposed to help you out, and they're more interested in helping you stay eligible.” The majority of football players are earning degrees that are barely worth the paper they’re printed on.
So why is Rosen in hot water again for shining a spotlight on some hard truths regarding college athletics? My personal opinion is that it has to do with how society chooses to portray athletes. We like our athletes to “stick to sports” and leave the political and social issues to others. We don’t like when athletes (or celebrities for that matter) use the large platform that we’ve already provided them to speak as regular people would. It is, frankly, a ridiculous position to take.
And, realisitically, we should be applauding Rosen for using his position as a major star in college sports to shine a light on an unfortunate situation. Labeling Rosen a spoiled brat doesn’t take away the fact that he’s speaking up for those who can’t - for the less-famous players playing for the Alabamas and Florida States and, hell, even the UCLAs who are getting short-changed on their education just so that they can continue to wear a uniform on Saturdays. Rosen is following in the footsteps of great Bruins like Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, and for that we should be thankful.
Consider the message, don’t shoot the messenger.