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College Athletes: Students First, Athletes Second?

A rundown of the debate over the treatment of players in American schools. First of two parts. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

One of our listeners has a question about college athletes in the United States. Amni Garcia in Mexico would like to know how much they study.

Well, we suppose that like any other students, there are those who study a lot, those who study just enough and those who struggle. But this question touches on a hotly debated subject.

College sports, especially football and basketball, are a big industry. Nationally rated teams and television broadcast rights can be worth millions of dollars.

This could be seen as a good deal all around. Colleges invest in their players and, in return, the schools earn money and attention. The athletes often get a free education. And they gain experience that might lead to a chance to play professionally.

But critics question the morality of a situation where college athletes may seem valued more as athletes than as college students. Praise is heard for recent improvements in graduation rates. Yet critics say that some players who finish college never really learn anything except their sport.

Getting back to the question of how much college athletes study, a better answer would be: it all depends. The expectations and pressures on athletes differ from school to school and sport to sport.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association governs college sports in the United States. For the past few years, this organization has been increasing requirements for student athletes. That includes high school students who want to compete on Division One teams -- the top division in college sports.

College athletes are required to make continual progress toward earning their degree. New reforms aim to punish Division One schools that do not graduate enough of their athletes.

Yet finishing college is not always a goal for students who are good enough to play professionally. Is this short-term thinking? A sports career may not last very long, or lead to the wealth and fame that young players may dream of. But there are always exceptions.

Fans of American football may remember the retired New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath. Last weekend, he graduated from the University of Alabama. He left that school forty-two years ago to play for the Jets. Now he is sixty-four, but he went back -- in part, he says, because he had promised his mother to finish his education.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. Next week, more on the subject of college athletes. I'm Steve Ember.