01/16/2008 04:16 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Working Overtime Before The Game Even Begins

One of the storylines in this current season of the popular HBO show The Wire considers stresses placed on police officers who are working overtime, but who have yet to be paid for all their hard work because their city is immersed in an economic downturn. In one particular scene during the first episode, a band of West Baltimore police officers resemble the vagabonds aboard Melville's Pequod as one after another they voice their discontent with this predicament that has left them tirelessly working to keep Baltimore safe, while causing them to be delinquent in personal responsibilities such as mortgage and child-support payments. Strangely enough, many college athletes are arguably facing a labor plight not entirely unlike the one facing the officers on The Wire.

As a college professor, I have become very familiar with a student policy that endorses dedicating three hours of preparation for each course credit. In other words, if you are taking a three-credit course, you should consign nine-hours to studying for that course per week. Thus, while it was not a complete surprise, it was still alarming reading about a recent NCAA study cited in The Chronicle of Higher Education detailing that division 1 football players dedicated on average 44.8 hours per week to football. Considering that the "average" American workweek is 40hrs, and that "NCAA rules limit mandatory practice and playing time to 20 hours a week," these amateur athletes are committing more time to playing their sport than most workers donate to their employers. Div 1 football players assign significantly more time to football than they do to any individual course, and twice as much time as permitted under NCAA guidelines.

Wait, before you start condemning major college sports, consider this­--men's golf and baseball were second and third on the list. Also not to be overlooked is that as Brad Wolverton reports in The Chronicle, women's softball and basketball are quickly approaching the 40hr benchmark as well, and two-thirds of collegiate athletes believe that there grades would improve if they were not spending so much time on their sports.

This latest report reiterates what college officials have known for a very long time: which is that college sports are spiraling out of control. Major earning sports like men's football and basketball have long functioned as veiled minor leagues for their professional counterparts, and over the last three decades universities such as Tennessee and Connecticut have developed women's basketball franchises rivaling the top football programs. Another team that belongs on this list is the Rutgers Women's basketball team who before being sideswiped by Don Imus in a RUI (Racism Under the Influence) incident last year, was long the cornerstone of that university's academic department, and whose success paved paid the way for their football team's recent renaissance. As schools try branding their softball, baseball and hockey teams in hopes that they can replicate the success of women's basketball, and sports such as golf, gymnastics and tennis are called on to generate revenue in order to legitimate their existences, collegiate athletes are enduring a hitherto unimagined workload.

What this means for athletes is more missed classes for as you strive to keep up with your teams' heightened ambitions manifesting in the form of "voluntary" practices, team meetings and increased travel. It means dozing off in seminars, lectures, and discussion sections, in other words, any instance where you don't have someone barking orders at you. It means begging for extensions and haggling with professors and TAs for grades, but not being able to take full advantage of the writing center or academic support centers on campus. It means rabid fans paying little regard for the stress you're under everyday praying for quick recovery from your stress fracture so that they don't have to tell their wives they blew their paychecks betting on your game. It means being the centerpiece of ESPN's programming during lulls in professional sport seasons, while somehow still being beholden to draconian NCAA amateur athlete regulations. It means that after a decade debating whether giving athletes salaries will lead to the erosion of college athletics and college life as we know it, it is time for seriously investigating whether overworking these young men and women has not already incited this erosion.