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May 31, 2011

Appalling hypocrisy

jim_tressel_downtroddenSo, let me get this straight.

Ohio State University throws its most successful football coach since Woody Hayes under the bus because he knew about compensation being paid to Ohio State football players, whose talents the institution exploited for enormous profit.

Meanwhile, numerous commentators castigate Ohio State and its coach for being cheaters when, in reality, virtually every big-time college football program engages in similar violations of the NCAA's dubious regulation of compensation to players who create enormous value for NCAA member institutions. Some institutions are simply better at hiding their violations than others.

I don't know Coach Tressel, but I'd be willing to bet that he is a good man who simply responded to the perverse incentives of a corrupt system.

Big-time college football is an entertaining form of corruption (see also here). But the corruption is the NCAA's regulatory scheme, and throwing decent men such as Coach Tressel to the wolves will not change that.

South Park's analysis is spot on:

Crack Baby Athletic Association
Eric Cartman,Kyle Broflovski,more...

Posted by Tom at May 31, 2011 12:01 AM |


the whole ncaa, bcs, and the conferences are all a corrupt joke... but you have to call Ohio States' brand a larger and more cynical corruption than just about anyone else. and they have benefitted from gaming that corruption maybe more than anyone else.

fitting that they would take the fall, though i doubt it will be much of a fall.

the question is, how best to attempt to fix it?

Posted by: cbr Author Profile Page at May 31, 2011 1:45 PM

I think the most effective fix is to remove the albatross of the regulations relating to compensation of the the athletes. This would result in a reorganization of big-time football and basketball as many institutions would forego the risk of attempting to run a profitable professional sports business. However, in the long run, that would be a much healthier -- and far less hypocritical -- approach to administering the sports. Who knows? Perhaps some of the institutions not interested in running a professional franchise would opt for true intercollegiate athletics modeled after the current version of NCAA baseball?

Posted by: Tom K. Author Profile Page at June 1, 2011 7:29 AM

You misstate his offense. Tressel was fired not simply because he knew of those violations, but because he failed to honor the terms of his contract which obligated him to notify the NCAA/Ohio State compliance office. What's the point of a contract if one side isn't obligated to follow the terms?

Whatever you think of the NCAA, nobody is forced to play or coach college sports. They all sign up voluntarily, they all know the rules. If they fail to honor those rules there is nothing wrong with kicking their rear end out to the curb.

And it is a rather weak defense to (seemingly) argue that Tressel shouldn't have been fired because others do what he has done but haven't been caught. Let me try that out the next time I'm caught speeding ('Officer, there's lots of people speeding and it's not fair I get a ticket if others who are speeding aren't getting a ticket' or doing something else wrong ('Officer, how dare you arrest me for dealing drugs as there are a whole bunch of people selling drugs who are just better at getting away with it!').

Posted by: steve sturm Author Profile Page at June 2, 2011 12:43 PM

Steve, no one has suggested that Tressel didn't breach his contract. He resigned because of it.

The point is that the system is fatally flawed in that it exploits the people creating the value without fair compensation and creates terrible incentives for managers such as Tressel to deal with. I mean, really - how bizarre is it that Tressel's life has been turned upside down because he turned his head to professional players earning black market wages for their talents?

Sure, Tressel could have gone and coached high school football and avoided these incentives (well, maybe not completely). But that doesn't change the fact that most anyone placed in Tressel's position would likely respond in the same way.

Your speeding analogy is a straw man. Sure, it's no defense to speeding that everyone else does it. On the other hand, your avocation and reputation are not eviscerated by getting caught speeding. Similarly, selling drugs is illegal, coaching football is not, even when one does so by bending the rules.

Posted by: Tom K. Author Profile Page at June 2, 2011 7:29 PM


Was catching up on my reading and came across this piece. I don't know quite where to start disagreeing with you on this.

120 schools play D1 college football. At most, the teams average 100 players (88 max scholarships, puls a few walk-ons). We are talking about a universe of less than 12,000 college football players. Last year, I believe approximately 250 went on to be drafted to play in the pros. few of those will make it in the pros.

The most recent numbers available for college sports revenues (at least that I could find) were for 2009. In that year, only 14 of the 120 D1 football schools genrated a profit from their athletics programs. I'm failing to sense the "enormous profit" you see so clearly.

68 of the D1 football schools generated a profit on football with a median value of $8.8 million. The basketball programs of those 120 schools was nearly identical with the median value of profit generated being $2.9 million. Again, where is the "enormous profit?"

Asserting that "reality, virtually every big-time college football program engages in similar violations of the NCAA's dubious regulation of compensation to players who create enormous value for NCAA member institutions. Some institutions are simply better at hiding their violations than others" is a bit over the top. There are examples of individuals involved with big-time college football who strongly disagree with you.

Tressel dod not just have actual knowledge of corrupt activities, he participated and perpetuated the corrupt practices by participating in a cover-up and allowing those involved to continue to engage in such practices after he had learned of the infractions (hance the allegations of "lack of institutional control.")

Saying every big time college football program is corrupt and some are simply better at orchestrating conspiracies to violate NCAA rules is as accurate as saying every attorney who has passed the bar is fundamentally corrupt and some are simply better at paying off judges and ethics committees so that outsiders don't see how the legal system is really run.

The distribution of revenues between college football probrams is unequal. Certain schools generate significant revenues and profits from college sports, especially college football. Overall, however, the system is not a machine generating "enormous profits" that needs to be brought to its knees.

The reason the athletes who attended the Ohio State University were not accurately compensated for their services has something to do with the value of a degree from that institution. How many athletes from Rice complain the value received for their services was unfair? How many Duke football players are complaining? How many third string punters from Ohio State feel the value of their free ride toward a degree was an unfair trade?

of the approximately 12,000 D1 college football players, 1,400 play for schools that generate profit. Of those 1,400, maybe 400 are starters. Of those 400 starters, maybe 250 are marqee players. Most of those 250 get some chamce to become well compensated pro players, In 2009, the average pro football salary was $700,000. The average pro career was 3 years. The 32 pro teams have max season rosters of 53 players (1,700 total pro players). If you drop an additional 12,000 D1 athletes into the labor pool for pro athletes, how far below $770k do you think the additional supply of labor would push salaries?

Now, with those numbers out there, how do you propose we improve the life of the kids playing college football? Instead of destroying college football, why not set minimum graduation levels and minimum grade averages for accredited classes and ensure post season play is opened up to those programs that take academics seriously. This would help the athletes prepare for life in the real world (and not the sports world) as well as skew revenues away from football factories and toward student athletes.

Posted by: cmilford Author Profile Page at June 4, 2011 8:49 AM

CM, in disagreeing with me, you actually make a good case for reorganization of big-time college sports along the lines of what I am recommending.

First, your data regarding the profit of big-time college sports programs is fatally flawed. Although I agree with you that few programs are currently profitable, that doesn't mean that a number of programs -- probably around the same number as the number of NFL teams -- wouldn't be as profitable or a bit less profitable as the NFL clubs if their financial statements were prepared and evaluated as true businesses rather than a department of a university.

Your suggestion that corruption in big-time NCAA programs is isolated is not supported by the evidence or my anecdotal professional experience. Major violations of NCAA regulations are so rampant that the vast majority of them are never reported.

Your macro analysis of D-1 football is also flawed. No one ever suggested that all 120 D-1 programs would be able to compete in a properly structured professional league. My sense is that about the same number of programs as there are NFL teams could do so. Some of those programs might elect to compete in true intercollegiate football along the lines of the current structure of college baseball, which competes with professional minor leagues for players. And why again should the third-string punter at Ohio State make the same compensation as Terrelle Pryor?

Finally, your proposed regulations have been tried in the past and, by and large, been arbitraged by at least certain participants under the current system.

Far from ruining big-time college football, a reorganization of the business would allow the players to be paid a market rate of compensation for their services, would put a stop to the absurd subsidies currently being paid to support many programs, and allow each university to elect whether it wanted to take the risk of owning a professional team or do something else with their football program. Young entertainers in many other professional sports and walks of life are entitled to be directly compensated for their value. Why not football players?

Posted by: Tom K. Author Profile Page at June 4, 2011 5:13 PM


Without evidence that major rules violations are the norm and not the exception, I can't accept thatcollege football is fundamentally corrupt and that enormous numbers of major violations are well known, but simply ignored by coaches, academic institutions, sports media and college sports fans. If anyone from OU, college station or even USC had information regarding major rules violations being covered up by UT officials, the benefits of making those violations known would be immeasurable.

Most major college sports programs do not generate considerable profits. Some do. No athlete is required to attend college. There may restrictions to what athletes may be allowed to play pro sports, but those restrictions have nothing to do with NCAA rules. The fact is that some individuals willingly agree to play college sports because they perceive some benefit to doing so. Your argument is that the benefits perceived by young amateur athletes perceive are somehow great enough. It would be a reasonable alternative for these individuals not to agree to play college sports and to offer their services elsewhere. The NCAA is not violating antitrust laws by colluding to restrain wages for amateur athletes. The athletes can choose to forego playing college ball if they feel playing college ball is exploiting them. Remove age restrictions on pro sports and place academic restrictions on post season play/ scholarship levels. That would do more than to force colleges to operate in the professional sports arena and drop all sports that do not generate self supporting revenues.

Posted by: cmilford Author Profile Page at June 4, 2011 5:58 PM

CM, my observation is based on my professional experience in the system and in discussing the system with many players, coaches and administrators over the years. You will find that my opinion is not uncommon. Former FSU coach Bobby Bowden recently said the same thing in an interview.

Although your observation about the incentives to turn each other in seems logical, the reality is precisely the opposite. Because infractions are so widespread, big-time programs recognize that ratting out other programs will only bring unwanted retribution. Also, there is the feared "Southwest Conference effect," wherein coaches and administrators recognize that turning against other programs can have prejudicial financial implications to programs that are merely associated with offending target program. For these reasons, it's actually unusual for big-time programs "to rat-out" other similarly-situated programs.

In your final paragraph, you zero in on the nexus of the problem for professional football players -- i.e., the lack of choice coming out of high school. A football player cannot turn professional and earn market wages directly out of high school. He must go into the NCAA system and receive the heavily regulated and/or under-the-table compensation for at least two years before being eligible for the NFL.

If the NCAA and the NFL adopted a system similar to that of college and professional baseball, I think that is the template for a successful system (you will note that scandals in college baseball are rare). However, the NFL has little incentive to do that because the colleges continue to subsidize the minor-league football league. Now that the NFL -- and indirectly, the NCAA member institutions -- have lost their anti-trust exemption through termination of the NFL Player's Association, perhaps the fear of substantial anti-trust damages will trigger development of a system that allows the players to be compensated fairly and transparently.

But I won't be holding my breadth waiting for such a development.

Posted by: Tom K. Author Profile Page at June 5, 2011 12:12 PM

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