There is a telling scene in Schooled in which UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin is shown playing a college football video game. And who is carrying the ball? None other than Franklin–at least the animated version.
Franklin, of course, lights up, knowing full well he won’t see a penny for his image being used.
“It really showed how he felt at that moment,” said producer Andrew Muscato.
Schooled: The Price of College Sports is full of many moments that examine what college sports is (big-money) and what it also is too often (failing athletes). The documentary debuts tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Epix, a premium cable channel that is following the mode of HBO and Showtime of using sports as a vehicle to widen its audience. The film also is available at epixhd.com, iTunes and will be out as a DVD.
Former baseball manager Bobby Valentine is listed as the executive producer; the film is being done by his production company. Muscato said it was inspired by Taylor Branch’s 2011 article in The Atlantic detailing how athletes are being, well, schooled. Branch also is one of the executive producers in the film.
“Taylor made it more than just about money,” Muscato said. “He made sense. As soon as he said yes (to doing the film), we hit the ground running.”
Muscato’s goal was to show “how the sausage gets made.” Indeed, it can be a meat grinder for those involved.
The biggest challenge, he said, was getting athletes, past and present, to agree to be interviewed. A break-through occurred when Arian Foster, formerly of Tennessee and now with Houston, decided to participate.
Foster told the story of being hungry as a student-athlete, requiring him to get money on the side while at Tennessee. His comments created early headlines for the film.
“He kept telling us how hungry he was,” Muscato said. “He was projected to be a second-round pick (after his junior year). If he was so hungry, why did he stay in school? We kept pressing him on that, and finally he said, ‘Yeah, I got paid.’ It all made sense. We knew we got something special.”
And there’s much more here, and it goes beyond money. There is a compelling segment about the academic angle and problems at North Carolina. It isn’t news that schools compromise standards and just push athletes through the system. However, it becomes more vivid when faces and names are attached.
“If (getting a scholarship) is the compensation for the athletes, fine,” Muscato said. “Then make sure their education isn’t compromised. Make sure they are getting the education as promised.”
The film concludes with an extensive discussion of whether athletes should be paid. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas stands out, chiding college administrators who say a proper payment system can’t be put in place. Bilas said that shouldn’t be an excuse.
“The problem is the athletes don’t have a voice,” Muscato said. “They need a seat at the table. Right now, you have one group telling other people, ‘We know what’s right for you. This is the way it should be done.’”
The NCAA declined to have a current representative be featured in the film. Why, if they think why they are doing is right?
Ultimately, the NCAA and people involved in college sports have major accountability problems on many levels, according to the film. Again, that won’t come as a great shock.
What makes this documentary work is, well, seeing how the sausage gets made.
“We hope people will look at college sports differently and wonder if they do enough for the athletes,” Muscato said. “We hope this furthers the national conversation.”