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Vols QB Nico Iamaleava shouldn’t have to attend class at Tennessee

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I’m officially politicking for college football players like Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava to stop being student-athletes. 

There are some, like Iamaleava, that have bigger things to spend their time on than the College of Communications degree from The University of Tennessee that hangs on my wall. Iamaleava needs to be a student focusing on being an athlete instead of a future NFL star being hung up by a mid-term exam in Calculus II, unless he so chooses.

I’m not trying to deny Iamaleava – or an NFL prospect of his ilk – a formal education or getting a degree from any college of his choice, but is now really the time? How jazzed would you be to get up and go to a physics class when you know football is already paying millions and will likely pay more? That’s the situation that Iamaleava is in.

Here’s the kicker. The University of Tennessee must honor the same commitment it’s been offering for years. Tennessee must pay for any education that Iamaleava, or any prospect that leaves UT in good standing, for the rest of his life. If football doesn’t work out, schooling will be the fall back and the Vols should pick up the tab for that. 

For those that absolutely think this notion is an unforgivable sin, let’s set up a string of football classes that teach a player how to be. the best NFL player he can be. Do you think teenagers know how to handle money, manage advertising campaigns or even choose an agent? No chance. Tennessee could offer that and be in front of the curve amongst schools that are just offering cash. Offering football classes would be a recruiting benefit, not just the right thing to do.

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Why is it so foreign to imagine elite prospects being able to choose more specialized classes for athletes? Isn’t it fair to say that all those classes would be more helpful to a young tight end than Spanish II?

I’ll even take it a step further. Iamaleava, and certain athletes who are deemed eligible, should be able to study football while they’re at college and receive real college credit. If things don’t work out in the NFL, no matter. Most schools of Tennessee’s ilk will allow players to return to college and attend class in order to pursue another degree for free. Tennessee has done that with countless athletes, such as former Vols Reggie Cobb and Fred White. 

So what is there to lose? Focus 100-percent on football, then return when the playing days are inevitably over to pursue another field of study if that’s a more desirable path. Or just be rich because Tennessee set you up better than anyone to be an elite athlete.

Given the demands of NIL, I sure like this option more than the one that former Vol quarterback Josh Dobbs took. He was focused on an aerospace engineering degree and football. Frankly, it seemed like a good idea at the time because I questioned Dobbs’ ability in the NFL. There would have been even more on his plate had he been dealing with a handful of NIL deals.

College football has come a long way. Players are paid. Players can transfer, just like coaches, without being punished. However, there are too many former athletes that haven’t lived up to their athletic prowess because they didn’t have the wherewithal to handle a tough situation. 

It’s challenging finding a job right out of college. However, it’s also tough keeping one when you have enough in the bank to never have to worry about working again. Iamaleava will soon be in that position. Shouldn’t he be best prepared for it by the school that will reap the benefits?

Let’s re-visit the recruiting repercussions. Imagine the first school to openly promote that it is best set up to prepare one’s son into becoming an NFL player. Forget the statistics about how hard that is to overcome, it would be a strong selling point. Moreover, what’s best for an elite player with a school and community riding on its back? It’s not spending 20 minutes to look for a parking spot so he can study Descartes in Philosophy 101, that’s for sure.

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