Agency costs of big-time college football

auburn.tigers.jpgCollege football is a big and competitive business, so it’s no surprise that the issue of agency costs has reared its head with frequency over the past century of the sport. This NY Times article reports on the latest incident of apparent academic fraud — an Auburn University sociology professor arranged to have 18 members of the 2004 Auburn football team, which went undefeated and finished No. 2 in the nation, take a combined 97 hours of the “directed-reading courses” which required no classroom instruction whatsoever. More than a quarter of the students in the professor’s directed-reading courses were Auburn University athletes. The usual NCAA investigation is to follow while serious academics at Auburn must be shaking their heads over it all.
As noted in this previous post, big-time college football and basketball are caught in a vicious cycle of uneven growth, feckless leadership from many university presidents and obsolescent business models. As the previous post notes, it’s an unfortunate situation because big-time college football and basketball would likely not suffer a bit from reform that required universities to compete with true student-athletes, as opposed to minor league professional players. Given the hyprocrisy of many state universities subsidizing minor league football and basketball at the same time as grappling with funding issues for core academic programs, one would think that expensive and mostly unprofitable system of big-time college football and basketball would be ripe for reform. However, powerful and wealthy special interests continue to support the current system despite the implications to the universities’ academic responsibilities.
Is there any hope for true reform of intercollegiate athletics as well as minor league football and basketball? Or is the current system so entrenched in concentrated wealth and regulation that it is impervious to reform?

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