With autonomy awarded to the “Power Five” Conferences this summer, the lines of collegiate and professional sports are becoming ever increasingly blurred. While the powers of self-governance has been extended to schools and conferences, student-athletes are still held by the amateur limitations of NCAA.

During the 2013 NCAA BCS football season, Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, was suspended for the first half of Texas A&M’s opener against Rice. The suspension was disciplinary action for Manziel’s alleged acceptance of money in exchange for signing autographs, which Manziel denied. Fast forward to last week, University of Georgia running back and Heisman Trophy hopeful, Todd Gurley, is facing similar disciplinary action. Unfortunately for Gurley, he will most likely face a harsher punishment than Johnny Football’s half-game suspension.

What faces the NCAA is not the interpretation of the rule, Gurley’s actions are unfortunately a direct violation of Title: 12.5.2.1, but an opportunity to educate and prepare their student-athletes. Speaking as a former NCAA student-athlete, coach, and administrator, preparing student-athletes for life and a career beyond post secondary education and athletic competition is paramount. However, that mission seems to have been lost within the “Power Five” Conferences. With the NCAA’s focus on enforcing the definition of “amateur” on those student-athletes, they have failed to educate them for a career in professional sports. As reported by Sports Illustrated in 2009, “78% of NFL players go broke just three years after retiring and 60% of ex-NBA players are in the same plight after five years out of the league.” These statistics show that the NCAA and their respective programs, specifically the “Power Five” Conferences, the perennial breading ground for professional athletes, are failing to prepare their student-athletes for life beyond the bubble. When did the NCAA separate itself from being affiliated with institutions of higher learning? Most likely, upon the signing of the first multi-million dollar television contract.

The NCAA has an opportunity to move away from the money hungry control freak image they’ve had over the past decade. They have an opportunity to reposition themselves and reconnect with it’s lost educational purpose and empower their student-athletes (the real money making machines). They can provide their student-athletes, especially those in a position for athletic careers in professional sports, with the ability to learn about contracts, licensing, marketing, and finance with something tangible – themselves.

If a student on an academic scholarship majoring in Computer Programming at Cal Tech can develop and sell an App, why can’t a student-athlete use his abilities as an athlete and influential figure in the community to generate an income – all while competing for and representing his institution and preparing for his professional career (not to mention generating millions in revenue for his school and conference).

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