By Dave Ongie
Tammy Pearce admits that a lot has changed since she played basketball for Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee back in the early 1980s.
Women’s basketball was in its infancy in those days, and college sports in general could still be considered an amateur pursuit. But now that television money has bloated NCAA athletics into a multi-billion-dollar industry, talk of whether college athletes should be compensated beyond their tuition has become a hot-button issue.
So when the language arts teachers at Liberty Bell were looking for ways to teach their students how to analyze arguments in order to fulfill a state English Language Art standard, an idea was formed. The result was a panel discussion that took place in the auxiliary gym inside Freedom Hall last Thursday. The entire eighth grade was on hand to hear a handful of former, current and future college athletes field questions on whether college athletes should be paid.
“This is a hot topic that we brought into the classroom, and it gets all students involved,” said Haley Money, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Liberty Bell who came up with the idea.
“It gets our athletes, especially our male students, focused. We have some great connections here at Liberty Bell, especially with Science Hill athletes, so we thought we’d use this opportunity to see if we could really get them fired up about this topic.”
The panel certainly gave the students plenty of facts, figures and conflicting arguments to consider. Pearce was on the panel along with her daughter Sydney, a standout basketball player at Daniel Boone who has signed to play for Carson-Newman next season. They were joined by former Wofford men’s basketball player Jaylan Allen, former King University and Western Carolina women’s basketball player Melissa Ervin, former ETSU baseball player Alex Reynolds, former ETSU football player Bill Murr and current ETSU cheerleader Lily Brock.
Reynolds offered several strong arguments for why college athletes shouldn’t be paid, and he backed them up with financial information that illustrated that a one-size-fits-all approach to compensating athletes at every college in every sport wouldn’t be feasible.
Allen countered by referencing the recent NCAA basketball scandal that involves shoe companies paying AAU coaches to steer prized recruits to schools that have sponsorships with their respective companies. In a sport awash with money, Allen said the players who generate the revenue ought to get a piece of the pie.
Pearce noted that her scholarship at the University of Tennessee in the early ‘80s was $6,000 a year while the education her daughter Sydney will be receiving would cost $37,000 a year. If it weren’t for Sydney’s basketball scholarship, Tammy said it would be impossible for Sydney to pay for the education that will hopefully lead to a career in nursing.
“We’ve been teaching the kids argumentative writing strategies, and it was awesome to see some of our athletes use those counterclaims, facts and statistics,” Money said. “It incorporates exactly what we’re doing in the classroom in real life.”
From here, the students will write a final argumentative essay expressing their individual conclusion on the subject.
“Then we’ll do a final poll to see if their viewpoints have changed after this unit,” Money said.