Editorial: Colleges must ensure that all student athletes graduate, injured or not

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

When star running back and ACC Player of the Year James Conner sustained an MCL tear during the first game of the season, Pitt’s football team seemed doomed.

But what about Conner’s career and quality of life after the season-ending game?

Injuries in college sports can often lead to unfortunate outcomes, not as much for the fans, but for the athletes who sustain them.

While stars like Conner tend to return from injuries to  scholarships and professional career paths, many lower-profile athletes aren’t always so lucky. An injury can spell the end of a player’s athletic career, but also their academic career — simply because athletic scholarships are in no way a guarantee.

This is not to say that there is no safety net for injured athletes. Pitt and many other schools do provide insurance for injuries sustained during team pursuits, such as games and practice.

Yet, the NCAA does not mandate that every school pay for comprehensive insurance. And even those that do can still choose not to renew injured athletes’ original scholarships.

Without their scholarships, student athletes may not be able to afford to continue their schooling if colleges take their scholarships away or if they fizzles out due to injury.

According to a 2014 report from the National College Players Association, 86 percent of college athletes already live below the poverty line, making it difficult for these students to maintain financial security even with scholarships. Without scholarships, athletes would face an impossible financial struggle.

“You’re talking about the health of players, you’re talking about their finances related to medical injuries and even the possibility they lose their educational opportunity because of an injury,” Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, a California-based advocacy group for college athletes, told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Monday

Student athletes, who most likely have trained their whole lives to earn their scholarships, can lose their whole future over an injury, making their entire investment in their sport no longer worth it.

Yet, the investment colleges put into their athletes is substantially low, despite the fact that they stand to make millions of dollars off of them.

This is completely unjustified. If schools are going to continue to attract student athletes with scholarships, they should not be able to strip them away due to circumstances that are out of the athletes’ control.

To ensure that all student athletes graduate, schools must provide multi-year scholarships. On top of that, schools should not revoke scholarships for anything besides the violation of academic standards or codes of conduct.

After all, only 2 percent of college athletes go on to play professionally. The rest are dependent on their college education, turning what is meant to be an extracurricular activity into a gamble on their futures.