Seriously, if this is the best The Chronicle of Higher Education can come up with on how to fix the problem of the ever-increasing commercialization of college sports, we are doomed, folks.
It’s a hodgepodge of touchy-feely nonsense divorced from reality (Nancy Hogshead-Makar: “The NCAA and conferences should replace win-loss records as a determining factor in revenue distribution with demonstrated educational values.”), playoff lust (Richard H. Thaler’s “Kiss the BCS Goodbye”), antitrust exemption for the NCAA as a magic wand (Tom McMillen: “It would allow the NCAA to again become a benevolent dictator, by giving it the power to approve all TV and radio contracts for basketball and football.”) and the NFL business model on steroids (Harry Edwards: “Athletic departments must wean themselves from the pressures, constraints, and uncertainties of their colleges’ general-fund resources and gain increased support from outside corporate sponsors. In other words, we could well be watching the “X-Oil Corporation” California Bears playing the “Y-Sports Drink” Oregon Ducks.”).
Jesus, my head hurts.
Look, I get the inequity argument. It’s not right that universities get to exploit the likenesses of student-athletes while piously denying those athletes the opportunity to do the same. But to pivot from legitimate grievances like that to a “we have to burn the village to save it” approach is overkill to the nth degree. And if you think I exaggerate, here’s what innovative thinker Frank Deford suggests as a solution:
… Colleges protest they can’t afford to pay the performers. If so, they should abandon the business of sports—or, anyway, downgrade to Division III or only finance intramurals. Certainly, athletics is a valuable discipline, and a sound mind in a sound body is devoutly to be wished for, but having traveling sports teams is not a requisite for higher education. Either make the economic model work fairly, or get out of the business. To claim that you make millions of dollars but can’t pay the performers is sophistry—no less than saying that you are operating a wonderful restaurant except for the incidental fact that you can’t pay the cooks and the waiters (although the entrée prices are sky-high and the maitre d’ is magnificently recompensed).
Likewise, there is no justification that football and basketball must pay the freight for other so-called “nonrevenue” sports. If football makes the money, the money should go to those who fill up the stadiums and attract the television bounty. In the current situation, a poor football player is not only working for free (and risking concussions and lifelong obesity), but he is, essentially, paying for a volleyball player’s scholarship and a swimming coach’s salary.
Athletic scholarships should be discontinued—except for the football and basketball players who desire them. The players in the two “revenue sports” would officially be school employees and only, at their option, students. They would have four years of athletic eligibility. Whether or not they wish to attend class and work toward a degree would be their choice. This would eliminate all the fraud attendant to “student” athletes getting into college and staying eligible.
In other words, just remake college football and basketball into professional leagues with voluntary educational opportunities on the side! How is that any different from what the NBA and NFL offer to the lucky few, age restrictions excepted? In essence, Deford argues that universities should fully capitulate by accepting the dirty work that the pros have assigned to them, which is to serve as developmental leagues at zero cost, and screw the rest. (Question for Deford: why limit eligibility to four years? If there’s no tie to the school other than the name on the jersey and they’re just school employees, why shouldn’t they be able to stay on the job as long as they like, provided their employers want them? Would that inconvenience the NFL and NBA too much?)
McMillen, by the way, is 180 degrees from Deford’s place.
… What has happened at my alma mater, the University of Maryland, points directly at the dead end where college sports is headed. Recently the university cut eight sports teams because the cash-devouring giants of basketball and football could not keep up with the escalating costs of intercollegiate athletics.
Choices like that signal that the true purpose of college sports is to make money; such decisions will eventually destroy the grass-roots sports infrastructure in this country, and only the major sports will survive at the college level. Eventually, the United States will be unable to field a strong Olympic team. Maybe when, in a future Olympics, America wins no gold medals, we will have our “sputnik moment” and realize that college sports should not produce highly paid coaches and administrators in just one or two sports, but should provide opportunities for many. Sports for all, not sports for money, should be our national mission.
Not that McMillen’s any more correct than Deford. Maryland’s problem is as much about a series of moronic decisions by its athletic director as it is anything systemic. And his fix is just as full of bullshit as Deford’s. McMillen’s changes won’t signal that the true purpose of college athletics isn’t to make money. They’ll signal that the true purpose of the NCAA is to make money. It’s worth reminding both of them that a good deal of value in college athletics is generated by the individual institutions which sponsor the teams that allow the opportunities to student athletes. That’s why nobody’s interested in starting a for-profit professional minor league for football. And that’s why nobody wears NCAA jerseys.
These people are idiots.