An Entertaining Form of Corruption

NCAA FOOTBALL: OCT 11 Arizona State at USCAs I’ve noted many times over the years, big-time college football is an entertaining form of corruption, but corruption nonetheless.

Several recent articles reminded me of this corruption and the almost pathological obsession of the mainstream media to avoid addressing it, particularly during the highly entertaining football season.

First, there was this Joe Draper/NY Times article on how the highly valuable Big Ten Network is changing the financial landscape of college sports.

Not once is it mentioned in the article that the people who are actually creating most of that value – i.e., the young athletes – are forced to compete under a system of highly-restricted compensation while some bastions of higher learning profit from the value that they create.

In their honest moments, how do the academics rationalize that sort of exploitation, particularly when much of it involves undereducated, young black men?

Meanwhile, this breathless Pete Thamel/NY Times article reports on how the regulator of this corruption – the NCAA – is really cracking down now on coaches who have the audacity of attempting to provide to the athletes a pittance of the compensation that the bastions of higher education are preventing them from receiving. Not once in the article is it mentioned that the system is exploiting these athletes for the benefit of the NCAA and its member institutions.

Finally, this William Winslade-Daniel Goldberg/Houston Chronicle op-ed thoughtfully points out the ethical issues that arise as a result of exposing young athletes to serious and often undisclosed risk of injury and loss of potential future compensation.

So, what is it about football that generates such cognitive dissonance when young professional athletes in other sports such as golf, tennis, and baseball are not subjected to such arbitrary restrictions in compensation?

Are we concerned that the sacred traditions of college football might change if the current system is altered to compensate the young athletes fairly for the risks that they take and the wealth they create? Are those traditions truly worth the perpetuation of such a parasitic system?

There is nothing inherently wrong with universities being involved in the promotion of professional minor league football if university leaders conclude that that such an investment is good for the promotion of the school and the academic environment.

But do so honestly. Allow the players who create wealth for the university to be paid directly. If they so desire, universities could establish farm team agreements with NFL teams and cut out the hypocritical incentives that are built into the current system.

Not only would such a system be fairer for the players who take substantial risk of injury in creating wealth for the universities, it would obviate the compromising of academic integrity that universities commonly endure under the current system.

So, why are the leaders of our institutions of higher learning not leading the way toward a fairer system?

Perhaps the problem is that they are really not leaders at all?

7 thoughts on “An Entertaining Form of Corruption

  1. Like the profile on the issue because the money machine is hijacking the sport–but are not the athletes getting paid already?
    Free education, room and board, meals, medical care, tutors, the highest end conditioning facilities and trainers, freebies from local merchants and suppliers, shoes and clothes from sponsors–if I pay $30-45,000 after tax for a nonscholarship average student to attend school and enjoy comparable lifestyle choices are they not getting 45-70,000+++ a year to play already, not to mention in the case of the athlete lacking ability to afford higher end university the ability to obtain life skills beyond the game? Fair is always where we sit, but the additional element of adulation and to be able to step out on the field is, as Martercard says, “priceless”. Like your views because imagine you have already got good response. 😉

  2. Let me provide an analogy. During the time of slavery, American slaves were given room and board and clothing, all of which could be considered a form of compensation.
    However, does anyone think that this is proper compensation if limited to just that? (Economists who have studied slavery have estimated that the in-kind compensation given to slaves was comparable to what farm laborers and other workers received in wages at the time. However, does anyone defend slavery even if that is true?)
    Now, I realize that the analogy stretches things a bit because collegiate athletes are not slaves. (I speak as a former D-1 athlete who was on an NCAA championship team and who enjoyed my time as an athlete. However, in the early 1970s, the NCAA was not as bureaucratic as it is now, and the rules were not as strictly enforced.)
    Nonetheless, other than in baseball, it is almost impossible for a very good athlete to be able to have a professional career without at least going to college, and preferably a major D-1 program. That creates its own set of moral hazards, and I think examination of the NCAA’s role in creating that state of affairs is worth studying.

  3. Pat, there is no question that the players are compensated, but indirectly through the schools proving scholarships and “spa” facilities and services, but also through under-the-table payments. My point is that we should be making this type of compensation transparent and direct.
    Although a young athlete from a relatively wealthy suburban home might be just fine with the compensation of a scholarship and spa facilities, the young athlete from a different background with little use or desire for a college education would much prefer receiving a salary for his efforts.
    As Bill Anderson points out in his comment, college baseball already provides a model for football to follow in providing young people a choice of either accepting the indirect compensation of playing college baseball or taking the money and playing professionally. However, without the financial albatross of a minor league system, NFL owners have little incentive to change the enormous subsidy that big-time college football provides in being the effective NFL minor league that develops and supplies players to the NFL.
    Given that, I think the best solution is for big-time college football simply to become a AAA farm system for the NFL and have each university that wants to participate in that system own a team as a business separate from the university’s education functions. Each such football business would then pay its players in accordance with what the market would bear. There is no reason why such a system wouldn’t work out just fine and actually might result in the creation of real college football programs again within the universities that do not want to get involved in running a professional football business on the side.

  4. Equating college football to slavery is insane and insulting to both the legacy of those who suffered under slavery and to those involved with college football today. As for compensation for college athletes, I am not a fan of the idea.
    I would rather see the current system modified to ensure an athlete 6 years of schooling to complete either an undergrad or, if they complete their undergrad in time, to finance a post grad degree with the remaining eligibility. I can think of other possible modifications.
    One issue you ignore is that many college football programs finance other sports programs at their universities. Running a for profit business, and paying taxes on the revenue derived, takes money away from the schools that otherwise would go to fund athletic programs or be returned to the general university fund. relatively few schools are truly financially successful. Only 32 of 120 D1 schools net more than $10mil (remember that there are only 32 NFL teams). No non-BCS school netted more than $6.5mil. When a school nets $10 mil on the only program that generates positive cash flow, changing the status of your money maker to a for profit entity and paying taxes on that profit will kill most other college sports at a given university.
    When you talk of “big time college football” you are talking about only a handful of teams whose financial fortunes wax and wane over time (Remember when Clemson won the national title? Where is Clemson football today?). If you want to change the financial structure of college football, you have to come up with a targeted plan that affects the top tier earners and doesn’t place a burden on those teams when they fall from the ranks of the elite. So far, I haven’t seen any ideas that come close to doing this.

  5. FWIW, I think Bill made clear that he was not comparing big-time college football to slavery. Rather, he simply used slavery as arguably the best example of how forced compensation without freedom of choice is not appealing.
    I have no doubt that you are correct that restructuring big-time college football into the real business would dramatically change intercollegiate athletics. I think that’s a good thing.
    Certainly, a large number of schools would pass on the business risk of professional football. Heck, maybe a few of them would consider restructuring their currently money-losing programs into real intercollegiate athletics. Also, I’m sure that most universities competing in professional football would opt not to use profits to fund other intercollegiate sports as the NCAA currently forces them to do. So, what’s wrong with that? Most of those sports would either die on the vine or become club sports absent the subsidy from football.
    Frankly, the lack of profitability of the current system for the vast majority of programs is a good reason to restructure along the lines that I am proposing.

  6. Tom,
    You seem to be forgetting about our old friend, Title IX. Without the subsidy football provides, there would not be the money for athletics programs for females. Without programs for females, there cannot be programs for males.
    Essentially, if you cut out the subsidies provided by football, you will reduce college athletics to a mere shell of what it is today. Hence, your argument boils down to a claim that to improve college athletic (for the sake of a small number of “exploited” individuals who themselves aren’t complaining in the least) we must destroy college athletics. I don’t think you are going to get too many people to join in a movement to destroy college football, and with it most of college athletics.
    The club sport level does not offer the same level of competition or the same benefits that a fully organized and university sanctioned team sport does. I simply don’t see the support for choosing 32 universities to enter into the business of managing professional minor league sports franchises and having the rest of NCAA athletics devolve to club level competition. Restricting post season competition to teams with graduation rates above a certain threshold and ensuring an athlete has a fair chance of gaining a degree would be far better suggestions. If the academic success of an athlete was tied closer to the success of the athletics program, coaches would be forced to recruit student athletes who actually were students.

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