Is This Any Way to Go to College?

A story in the Wall Street Journal took a look at LSU quarterback Joe Burrow’s lifestyle at LSU.

Burrow won the Heisman Trophy last night, given to the best player in college football. However, as the story notes, Burrow actually spends very little time on campus.

Burrow transferred to LSU early in the summer of 2018 from Ohio State, where he had completed his degree in consumer and family financial services in three years and been named an OSU Scholar-Athlete.

At LSU, Burrow is pursuing a Masters in Liberal Arts. The degree requires 36 hours of coursework, as much as nine hours of which can be completed per term, all online. If he takes courses during the summer, fall, and spring terms, he may complete his master’s degree before going to the NFL, where he is projected to be drafted high in the first round.

Burrow takes all of his courses online, which means he never has to walk around the campus to go to class.

Here’s what a couple of his teammates have said:

  • center Lloyd Cushenberry III: “Since he’s been here I’ve never seen him on campus. He likes to go in his room, play Xbox Rocket League. Or he’s watching documentaries on space or something.”
  • wide receiver Justin Jefferson: “He eats in the cafeteria with us, but after, Joe goes in his little habitat and it’s over with. Nobody is connecting with Joe after that.”
  • defensive end Glen Logan: “They’d probably maul Joe if he went walking around. “They’d be like ‘Oh my God, it’s Joe Burrow!’ ”

Burrow sounds like an impressive young man, both academically and athletically. I see nothing wrong with him taking his classes online for his graduate degree; it’s a popular way to earn such degrees.

I do see something wrong, however, with the way one of his competitors for the Heisman Trophy is pursuing his degree.

Justin Fields started his collegiate career as a quarterback at the University of Georgia in 2018 but transferred the following year to Ohio State as a sophomore. He has also had a terrific year on the football field, but I feel a bit sorry for him off the field.

Fields takes all of his pre-business classes online. He said in late September that when he isn’t working out at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, he would rather watch Netflix at home than explore his school.

I realize that being a top athlete in a Division I football program is a full-time job, but isn’t part of being a college student exploring the world around you?

I have no idea if Burrow lived a similar lifestyle when he was at Ohio State, but I feel sorry for Fields, since it seems like he is missing out on a big part of the college experience. Now I must point out that all of this is pure speculation on my part, Fields may be intimately involved in other aspects of college life besides football, but I didn’t get that sense from reading the article.

It’s OK for Burrow to live like a recluse if he wants at LSU; he has already had the undergraduate college experience, but Fields is just in his second year of college.

I know for many top athletes, college is just a stepping stone on their way to the pros, so I wouldn’t mind if football and basketball had minor leagues like baseball has, and allow the top athletes in those sports to skip college

But if they are going to be at college anyway, it seems like they should enjoy their time there, and take full advantage of the opportunity that being a college student offers.

The basketball players at Villanova are routinely seen around campus, both inside and outside of the classroom. They are active participants, as much as they can be, in the college experience.

I don’t know if it’s the same at other colleges, but it certainly does not sound that way at Ohio State or LSU.

My hope is that all big-time college athletes will be able to look back fondly on their college days, with memories of more than just sports and classes.

*image from Baltimore Ravens

4 thoughts on “Is This Any Way to Go to College?

  1. I don’t think that Athletic Dept. really cares about the athletes college experience outside of maintaining grades that make them eligible to play. And although organized athletics can build some very desirable qualities in their athletes, it is not the plethora of social skills other, let’s say more rounded, students will leave their institution with. Great post Jim, as always!

    1. thanks, Brad, for your insights. For some athletes, academics are not the primary concern. In those cases, those athletes should not be going to college, but should have a chance to develop their athletic skills elsewhere, such as many baseball players do in the minor leagues.

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