What the Hell has happened to Innovative Thinking?

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.


Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

33 responses to “What the Hell has happened to Innovative Thinking?

  1. DawgPhan

    Senator I think that this blog post needed some red-meat for the masses…blame bobo, mention ole willie, or call out another blogger…

    That being said, did someone really suggest that the solution to the ills of the big money football programs is to let the big money football programs keep all their money? yeah that should work out great for everyone.

  2. Go Dawgs!

    He wants to give the NCAA power to approve or disapprove any TV contracts for football and basketball? Screw. That. The NCAA is a lot like PETA in my mind. I agree in principle with at least parts of the missions of both organizations (I think that the NCAA should do everything to ensure level playing fields and ensure amateurism if we’re supposed to be amateur athletics, or ensure everyone pays players at the same level if we’re going to have some revenue sharing… likewise, I think animals should be treated humanely whenever possible, but I love meat and believe that if God wanted me to not use cows for food, He wouldn’t have made them out of hamburgers). All that said, neither organization has the first clue how to accomplish their mission. They’re both laughably inadequate to the task. PETA goes for overly sensational tactics while the NCAA just sticks its head in the sand and pretends not to notice what’s going on. If the SEC’s run of titles continues apace, and the league is up for another huge TV contact that would benefit all of our schools and student athletes, do you really want some asshat in Indianapolis with his finger on the kill switch just because he’s concerned that Conference USA isn’t getting the same opportunity? Think David Stern vetoing the New Orleans/Houston/LA trade is asinine? You ain’t seen nothing yet, folks. I personally want to see the power conferences secede from the NCAA and start their own governing body. I certainly don’t want to give the NCAA more power than it already has.

    • gastr1

      That’s how the NFL does it. I know, it’s a terrible model, and it’s struggling so much…

      • Go Dawgs!

        As a matter of fact, that is most assuredly NOT how the NFL does it. The NFL goes out and makes its own TV contracts. It does not grant some other entity out there (an entity with a legitimate financial interest in changing the NFL’s postseason structure, or perhaps an interest in putting teams from lesser leagues like the Arena League or the Canadian League on even footing as the NFL at that!) power to approve or veto its TV deals. The SEC gets to make its own TV deal. The ACC gets to make its own TV deal. THAT is the NFL model, not giving the NCAA oversight.

      • Go Dawgs!

        Wait, I think I might have misread your comment… if you were saying that secession from the NCAA would be the way the NFL does it, then I agree. If not… I’m sorry, my brain’s mushy. Move along, nothing to see here.

        • gastr1

          The NFL exerts considerable centralized control designed to even-out competition. I was thinking more about “do you really want some asshat in Indianapolis with his finger on the kill switch just because he’s concerned that Conference USA isn’t getting the same opportunity?” than about tv contracts, which wasn’t really the point of your post, admittedly.

    • Cojones

      Go D, did you happen to see the Peta protest against fishing? The fishes feel pain . Netting for eating is “OK”, but fishing for sport is not. Protesters threw rocks at Bass Tournament fishermen when they came near shore. I kid you not. In Ca , 20 yrs ago. Saw the story posted on a tackle store’s window in Santa Barbara. Deputies could interfere with the rock throwing, but splashing in the water and making loud noises, they could not.

      A friend and I went quail hunting in a state forest at start of quail season in Ca. The trail we were on was a hiking trail usually and we had bagged 4 birds between us when two women hikers appeared from around the corner. They chastised us for killing innocent birds and didn’t accept our premise that they tasted good. We asked if they had seen other hunters since they had hiked the trail (according to them) for 10 miles, heard some shots , but had seen no one. We asked if they didn’t think it was dangerous since they came upon us unseen. Didn’t phase’um. About 200 yds past them we nailed our 5th and 6th birds, so they hadn’t really disturbed the feeding coveys. DUMB!! We saw turkeys and came back later to the same area for turkey season.

  3. Derek

    The problem with these “solutions” beyond the obvious senselessness of them is that they don’t look to the root of the problem. The reason that intercollegiate athletics appears to be only about money is because it has abandoned any pretext that the mission has anything to do with education. The mission appears to be about winning which results, utimately, in lots of cash.

    When you have basketball players announcing that they will only play one year and then turn pro and the colleges still want them it’s hard to deny this reality. On the other hand you have college athletes who think that the scholarship undervalues their services and in most respects they are right.

    The competition for the best players irrespective of their ability in the classroom or their desire to be there in the name of a buck is a problem. This is true unless you think being a Michigan fan is the same as being a charger fan. In my view they are totally different and should remain so.

    The answer it seems to me is to make admissions requirements the same for everyone. That way schools can decide whether they are academic institutions or diploma factories. The schools will then group themselves in conferences according to their priorities. I tend to think that this would create a market, albeit a small one, for minor league football and would not substantially diminish the market for major college football. Personally, I’d rather see real student atheletes competing than idiots who who are trying to skate by until they can go pro.

    If Georgia vs. Florida looked like army vs. Navy would you turn it off because none of them were first round draft picks?

  4. Monday Night Frotteur

    Deford certainly isn’t an idiot. Eliminating athletic scholarships seems unnecessary, but there is no real reason why male revenue athletes should subsidize middle class lacrosse players’ athletic scholarships and coaches’ salaries, and 4 in 5 eligibility is arbitrary now; there’s no inherent reason to cap “student athletes” eligibility at 4 in 5.

    Without the top athletes D-1 football would have the same level of support that Ivy League football has now. A core of dedicated student fans and local alums at the games, almost nobody watching games on TV, and a handful of wealthy alums donating not out of competitive desire but out of benevolence (e.g. Yale’s “Class of 1954 Field.”). Totally unaffiliated minor league football wouldn’t generate as much revenue as major D-1 college football, but it would generate enough to give the top couple hundred players a much better deal than the $35,000 they get now (and franchised minor league football could actually be pretty lucrative).

    There’s an easy Solomonic resolution; maintain faux amateurism (true amateurs wouldn’t get athletic scholarships or preferential admission, they’d be like club sport participants), but eliminate the restrictive cap on players receiving outside compensation. If Armani wants to pay Terrelle Pryor to wear Armani suits (like it pays James Franco), so be it. If somebody wants to pay AJ Green $1,000 for his autograph, so be it. If that allows large schools with competitive alumni to gain an advantage over Duke and Boston College, so be it. Competitive balance in FBS football (and basketball, for that matter) is pretty weak as it is, and the sport hasn’t been harmed.

    • Derek

      Assuming that having top players aka faux students is necessary to drive interest and thus money, I have to ask what that has to do with the mission of a university? Is generated revenue and end in and if itself? Doesn’t there have to be some relationship between the activity and the educational process? Shouldn’t there be? Could you have the university of Alabama strippers team? Or the university of Florida porn squad because it generates money? “Jenny’s not much in the classroom but her “Gators Do It in the Mud Hole” sold 10 million copies and that will mean more resources for our non porn star students.”

      • fetch

        Could you have the university of Alabama strippers team?

        Aren’t strippers just trying to pay their way through college anyway? This sounds like a wonderful idea. The University of Houston could even add some novelty to it by having a more mature revue.

      • gastr1

        Think they wouldn’t do that if they could?

        Universities are constantly looking for money. Most don’t have anywhere near what they really need– and the rest believe they don’t have anywhere near what they need. The connection between the mission and the ADs disappeared long ago. Now we can justify the revenue because it increases indirects, i.e., undergrad applications, donations to the general scholarship fund, alumni connection to the school, etc.–they’re getting free marketing that brings in cash instead of costing it. Educational process? Pshaw.

      • Monday Night Frotteur

        What do intellectually-void graduate school programs (e.g. business and law schools) have to do with most universities’ missions? I mean, other than serving as ATMs? Especially now, in light of the exposure of law schools’ phony employment statistics; how many universities’ mission statements include “duping kids who lost the sorting mechanism lottery into obtaining federally subsidized non-dischargable loans to pay for a degree that won’t help most of them find legitimate employment?”

        The “university mission” ship sailed in the 50s, after the Sanity Code was abandoned and schools started offering Grant in Aids to athletes with inferior academic profiles. That said, there’s nothing further from most universities’ missions than agreeing in restraint of trade to cap the wages of poor minorities who (literally) sacrifice their health for the universities’ benefit.

        • Derek

          Yeah so fuck it. Let’s watch some retards beat the shit out of each other and call them student athletes, right? Let’s let illiterates into school and let them do coloring books. If they learn the three primary colors in 5 years we give them the same diploma everyone else gets.

          Just because your cynical doesn’t mean that you should just give up. Besides most cynics like to bitch and what’s the point of bitching if all is lost? Just trying to help you out here.

          • gastr1

            Really, Derek??? You don’t think that’s what college football is NOW? You’ve been under a rock, man, come on out. You think 90+% of college football players get a real education? Some news for you: they don’t have TIME to get a real education. The serious majors are off-limits!

          • Monday Night Frotteur

            Read the initial ACT/SAT scores of incoming FBS football players. They aren’t “retarded,” but they’re (mostly, there are obviously exceptions) not scholars, and they bear almost no resemblance to the general student body at good schools like Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Notre Dame, USC, etc. We basically are watching dullards beating the crap out of each other. The question is whether the schools who employ those dullards should have to compete against each other with bids featuring uncapped compensation, or whether they should be allowed to agree in restraint of trade that $35,000 is “enough” for a 50+ hour/week job that’s very hazardous to their health.

            The Ivy League had this experiment; they still draw reasonably well (15,000-20,000/game) but nobody watches them on TV, nobody’s paying $70+PSLs for tickets, and they draw less than they drew back in the 20s-40s when they had the top talent. If you want to Ivy-ize the sport, know what you’ll get.

        • Cojones

          Mon nite- You never went to a University did you? I mean really go and do the whole scene. You should look up the history of Is of HL and see how athletic prowess has always been a part. Are you some kinda schmuck?

    • Without the top athletes D-1 football would have the same level of support that Ivy League football has now.

      That is a crock. There are plenty of D-1 programs devoid of star players which far outdraw Ivy League schools.

      And you know how I feel about “it’s so easy” solutions.😉

      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        You don’t like “it’s so easy” solutions, huh. Here’s one. Everybody become just like D-III. Use the dough for academic scholarships. Jocks can get those, too. If they qualify–academically. That’s easy, isn’t it?

      • Monday Night Frotteur

        All solutions create winners and losers, but some solutions create more justified classes of winners and losers than others. Allowing players to draw outside income from wherever obviously benefits the top players a lot, it doesn’t cost Athletic Departments as much as other solutions, and it would substantially reduce the need/cost of compliance.

  5. wait til the women find out he wants to do away with all their sports free rides ! man he will be opening a can of worms that will fight back!

  6. It ain’t gonna happen;but, I would still be a Dawg Fan if all Student Athletes had to meet the same Academic Requirements to get in school as the other students did. That is at all D-1 (BCS) Universities. Let the non qualifiers go to a JC school for 2 years & then still have 3 years of eligiblity left at a 4 year school. That actually would work for me,

  7. Dr. Bob

    First of all, before talking with my mouth full, thank you for the blog. You do a fine job and obviously put a lot of work into it. Having spent a career as a college faculty member at two SEC and one ACC school, I can tell you that you had better get used to the idea that some radical changes are coming and some of those changes will be shaped by the people who wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education. We all love college football but the sense is that the tail has been wagging the dog and a correction in that arrangement is in the works. Too many prominent leaders are saying it and now support is coming from journalists. I predict that we are watching the last few years of big time college football and that teams in the future may be associated with college names but will operate like pro teams along the Deford model. Players will be paid, stadiums will likely be off campus, and those players who would like to get a degree may do so if they choose. Championships and national championships can go into the spring if they wish without regard to meddlesome college academic schedules. Let’s all enjoy the bowls this season and probably for the next three, or so, because this too shall pass and the memories will be fun. Ridicule the writers of the Chronicle piece if you wish but know that the writers are among those who make the rules and the rules are about to change. Thanks, again, for the blog.

    • Mayor of Dawgtown


    • Scooter Brown

      7825 my 3425 Bob. Asshat.

    • hedonism

      I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a college professor thinks that college administrators and other assorted ivory tower types are going to fundamentally reform major college athletics, but the reality is that those people simply aren’t going to nuke the system (especially not in ~3 years), and even if they try state legislatures are going to intervene. Politicians already make the whole system possible by preserving the tax exemption for amateur athletics.

      There’s no tipping point here. All of the stuff you say has been true for years and years. The system is incredibly resistant to change and it is backed up by more money than ever.

    • AusDawg85

      I enjoy when humorists join these discussions, so I’ll play along….

      Dear Dr. Bob,

      I, too share your concerns about the role of academics at our higher institutions of learning. The “game” is now, as you say, the tail wagging the dog. Only the game I refer to is the one played by bloated administrations that protect tenure, chasing taxpayer funded research grants, white elephant infrastructure projects, etc. which have all contributed to run-away inflation of tuition.

      While I doubt the quality of a college education today is greater than 20 years ago…I’ll concede for the sake of endless arguments that they are the same. But there is little evidence today’s students are better prepared…so how do you account for an inflation rate that exceeds all but that in the health care sector?

      CFB has many problems and issues that need to be addressed. But I suggest you look at solutions to clean-up your own backyard, sir, before opining about the imminent demise of something for which your clearly have little insight.

      Thanks for playing along…

    • Faulkner

      No offense Dr. Bob, but this is BS.
      The land of college “administrators” is a very sheltered and delusional group. At the end of the day, $$$$ will dictate what happens on campus. There is no major change coming per say and the people who write for the Chronicle of Higher Education need to spend some time in the real world. The bubble that these people live needs to be popped.
      Educators like Nancy Hogshead-Makar need to get over themselves. Their pompous and better than you attitudes have been tolerated for to long.

      AUSDAWG85- pretty much nails the hypocrisy of these people. May I add that this not onlyhappens at the college level, but all the way down to the local public school boards and administrators. (For the record, I do know some administrators that really are in it for the student. Just not enough of them)

  8. Hogbody Spradlin

    Mr. McMillen: pray tell what sports did Maryland have to discontinue, and were they men’s or womyn’s teams?

  9. Always Someone Else's Fault

    Any argument that starts with assumptions about “equity” is doomed from the start. It’s not that “equity” isn’t an admirable thing – it’s just a relative thing. Ask a grad student if he would like the same deal as the 3rd string offensive tackle – free room, free food, free tuition, academic assistance, a position professor, a coordinating professor, and a head professor. Instead, most grad students get a small paycheck which doesn’t even begin to cover tuition, much less living expenses.

    The cash flow tied to research at many of these schools dwarfs the athletic money, so don’t give me the “but these athletes generate millions for State U.”

    I do not mind the deal athletes get, but I’m sick of hearing people throw terms like exploitation and slavery at it. It’s a mind-boggling opportunity, one 999 out of 1000 people on Earth would kill for. Yes, many kids waste it – but that’s a MUCH different issue and problem.

    Articles like these come from a very sheltered and honestly very arrogant place, IMO.

  10. The Lone Stranger

    Have to give props to that and a big, honkin’ … +1