In the commercial —the one the NCAA posted on Twitter and has been airing on television throughout the NCAA tournament — the life of a “student-athlete” appears downright charmed, and perhaps even breezy. Which is, according to the athletes themselves, the greatest problem with the advertisement, and what it’s attempting to sell.
Cameron Johnson, who is working on graduate degree while playing for the North Carolina basketball team, said in the real world the life of a college athlete “ain’t a breezy existence.” Johnson, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer, sat in front of his locker here on Saturday, the day before UNC’s second round NCAA tournament game against Washington, and laughed at the NCAA’s portrayal of the life of its athletes.
So, too, did one of his teammates, sophomore Sterling Manley, who shook his head, sighed, leaned back and offered a prelude to his fuller thoughts on the NCAA’s depiction: “I’d say one thing before we start anything. That is not the life of an athlete, by any means. By any means.”
During the past two days in Columbus, Ohio, which hosting first and second round NCAA tournament games, The News & Observer posed a simple question to as many college basketball players as possible: What do you think of the commercial, and how the NCAA has sold the life of a “student-athlete” to the public? The answers, from more than 10 players, were consistent and, at times, comical.
A sampling of the reviews:
“Completely inaccurate, honestly,” said Tyler Cook, an Iowa forward.
“It’s not true,” said his teammate, Jordan Bohannon.
“I’m a current NCAA athlete, I don’t want to say anything to get in trouble, but that’s not accurate,” said Ryan Kriener, another Iowa player.
“We kind of work a little bit harder than that,” said Grant Williams, the Tennessee forward, who spoke with a touch of modesty.
“I feel like they left out a few things,” said David Crisp, a Washington guard.
The commercial runs 30 seconds and depicts a morning-til-night day in the life of a college athlete. At the start of it, the athlete rises from bed and then immediately finds himself in a classroom, where he raises his hand. From there, he walks outside and begins jogging. Then he does a short dance somewhere on campus — “I was like, we don’t do that,” said Jalen Johnson, a Tennessee guard from Durham — and from there he finds himself in a basketball game.
After the basketball game, the NCAA’s character appears in a library, where he stands there for a moment and looks a bit bewildered before he checks his phone. And then he goes to bed, wearing a sweatshirt and a smile, while a voice-over begins to play before the NCAA logo pops up: “If you have the talent and dedication to succeed in school, and in sports, we’ll provide the opportunity.”
The commercial, several of the college basketball players in Columbus said, shows the disconnect between how the NCAA portrays college life for athletes and what living that life is actually like. Johnson, the UNC graduate senior forward, said he saw the commercial for the first time on Thursday night, when he and some of his teammates were watching tournament games.
Nobody, Johnson said, thought much of the commercial’s accuracy.
“I think it’s a little bit different than how they portrayed it right there,” Johnson said. “I mean, the guy’s kind of like floating through (his day).”
Johnson soon became aware of some of the parodies that have appeared online in response to the NCAA’s depiction of a day in the life. Johnson said he watched one such parody in which an athlete is shown rising from bed in pain, suffering from a cramp.
“I’d say that’s a little better of a portrayal, for sure,” Johnson said. “I do that all the time.”
Since its release, the commercial has been widely rejected by former college athletes, some of whom have voiced their discontent on social media. J.J Watt, the NFL star who first made his name, nationally, at the University of Wisconsin, responded to the commercial with this, in a post on Twitter: “The NCAA really doesn’t even know what a real day in the life of their own student-athletes is actually like huh?”
A request for comment from the NCAA was not immediately returned Sunday.
That was the primary complaint of current athletes here at the NCAA tournament – the NCAA’s signature event and one that generates billions in revenue for its member schools. Most of the college basketball players who discussed the commercial here in Columbus said it missed the point, and didn’t offer a true reflection of the stress of their daily lives, or the work involved.
“I don’t even think a generic athlete has a life like that, to be honest,” said Manley, the UNC sophomore. “I don’t even know why they made that commercial but, anyways.”
Manley, who sat out a large portion of the season because of an injury, was especially animated in his criticism. He expanded it beyond the revenue-generating sport of men’s basketball, as well, and he thought of some of his classmates who face hours of training or workouts before their first morning class. In the commercial, the fictional athlete goes right from bed to the classroom.
“The swimmers at our program, they practice at 5 in the morning, every day, whether they’re in the off-season or in the in-season,” Manley said. “And then you’ve got to think about all the time after class. … So it’s not just clear-cut, oh let me wake up, let me go to class, oh, the teacher calls on me or the teacher likes me or this and that – oh, let me go to practice and then let me go to sleep. …
“No. This is a 40-hour week, every week.”
Manley said he and his teammates “have kind of laughed” at NCAA’s version of their lives, but that they’ve also wondered why “the NCAA would make something like that.”
“The life of a student-athlete is tough,” said Lamonte Turner, a Tennessee guard. “A lot of people don’t realize that. You know, it’s different, really.
“A lot of times when you tell people the stuff you go through every day and the stuff you do day in and day out, and what your schedule looks like, it kind of gives them a different perspective of you.”
Perhaps few college athletes are more representative of the complete college experience than Luke Maye, the UNC senior forward who recently received the Skip Prosser Award, which is given to the ACC’s top scholar-athlete in men’s basketball. Maye is a business administration major in the Kenan-Flager School of Business, which is among UNC’s most selective schools.
Like his teammates, he smiled and shook his head on Saturday at the mention of the commercial, and how the NCAA had chosen to depict him and thousands of other college athletes.
“I think some of the aspects with waking up early and making runs and playing basketball is important,” Maye said, “but I think it didn’t really focus on some of the things that go unnoticed – like having to eat and having to go to class for multiple times a day and then also having to be able to do schoolwork late at night and trying to get up the next morning and do the same thing.
“I don’t think it really showed a great depiction of the balance that we have.”
Maye had just finished attending an NCAA-mandated press conference, and now it was time for more interviews, followed by more time with the team the rest of the day and night, followed by a game on Sunday afternoon, followed by a flight home and the start of another school week as he approaches graduation. With any luck, he was hoping to live it all over again late next week.