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How Can We Fix College Sports?
January 2, 2012 11:03 AM   Subscribe

The historian Taylor Branch, who in October published a lengthy excoriation of the N.C.A.A. in The Atlantic, comparing it to “the plantation,” was only the most recent voice to call for players to be paid. Like most such would-be reformers, however, he didn’t offer a way to go about it. That’s what I’m setting out to do here. Over the last few months, in consultation with sports economists, antitrust lawyers and reformers, I put together the outlines of what I believe to be a realistic plan to pay those who play football and men’s basketball in college. Although the approach may appear radical at first glance, that’s mainly because we’ve been brainwashed into believing that there’s something fundamentally wrong with rewarding college athletes with cold, hard cash. There isn’t. Paying football and basketball players will not ruin college sports or cause them to become “subcontractors.” Indeed, given the way big-time college sports are going, paying the players may be the only way to save them. - Joe Nocera, Let's Start Paying College Athletes

Previously
posted by beisny (61 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I second that plan...
posted by PJLandis at 11:08 AM on January 2, 2012


It seems to me that it would be a lot easier to abolish big-time college athletics and return universities to their core educational mission. If there's any "brainwashing" at work, it's in the idea that it's unthinkable for universities to stop serving as farm teams for professional sports leagues.
posted by craichead at 11:10 AM on January 2, 2012 [41 favorites]


For most US professional sports colleges are their de facto farm clubs. Separating them from the schools and paying them would formalize what's already in place and get colleges back to their core mission.
posted by tommasz at 11:12 AM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seriously, we're supposed to believe that up 'til now, college athletes didn't get paid?
posted by telstar at 11:25 AM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's next, paying nerds for good grades?
posted by phaedon at 11:27 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


If a payment system was actually implemented, I would hope that scholarship funds that once went to the athletic departments would be re-directed back into educational scholarship funding.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:28 AM on January 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


When I linked this this was the part I blockquoted:
The hypocrisy that permeates big-money college sports takes your breath away. College football and men’s basketball have become such huge commercial enterprises that together they generate more than $6 billion in annual revenue, more than the National Basketball Association. A top college coach can make as much or more than a professional coach; Ohio State just agreed to pay Urban Meyer $24 million over six years. Powerful conferences like the S.E.C. and the Pac 12 have signed lucrative TV deals, while the Big 10 and the University of Texas have created their own sports networks. Companies like Coors and Chick-fil-A eagerly toss millions in marketing dollars at college sports. Last year, Turner Broadcasting and CBS signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal for the television rights to the N.C.A.A.’s men’s basketball national championship tournament (a k a “March Madness”). And what does the labor force that makes it possible for coaches to earn millions, and causes marketers to spend billions, get? Nothing. The workers are supposed to be content with a scholarship that does not even cover the full cost of attending college. Any student athlete who accepts an unapproved, free hamburger from a coach, or even a fan, is in violation of N.C.A.A. rules.
posted by gerryblog at 11:28 AM on January 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


What's next, paying nerds for good grades?

If millions of people pay billions of dollars to watch them solve for X ... then hell yes.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:32 AM on January 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I lost count of how many times this article made my stomach turn. Its basically professionalizing college sports - salary caps, minimum salaries, players unions, etc. At that point just divorcing it from the university makes more sense. The kids can use the salaries and choose whether they want an education as well (the pre-pro league would need to have schedules similar to current college programs so that kids could attend 2- or 4- year colleges).

Meanwhile, all this sports money has to come from somewhere, when your cable bill goes up $5 this year, you can thank ESPN and other sports broadcasting networks for shelling out more money to the various sports leagues and the NCAA.
posted by SirOmega at 11:33 AM on January 2, 2012


Mind you, I think they should be paid. But let's not call for abolishment altogether, and let's not call for paying them on a scale similar to professionals.

Let me plagiarize myself here for a second...

People seem to miss the enormous amount of money that is provided in the form of scholarships for college players. It is certainly exceedingly rare for the average high school player to receive a football scholarship -- something like 1 in 10,000 players. But there are 100+ Division I colleges, each offering 80+ players per year a full ride scholarship, which includes room, board, books, tutoring, food and medical care. There is no restriction on the type of education provided, either -- you can major in communications or chemistry. Your choice.

100 teams x 80 players = 8,000 potential college graduates per year, getting their education completely free of charge.

Ahem. That's a better record than the United Negro College Fund.

Granted, and fair play to the UNCF, only about half of college football athletes actually graduate in four years. But that's not usually the college's fault. You can fault the schools where it is not handled well. But you can't fault the schools for offering it.

Moreover, the financial successes of college football teams often provide the operating dollars for all the other college sports programs that can't charge $50 a ticket. Want to know why UCLA has such as great women's soccer program? For one thing, it's because they have a men's football program that pays the bills.

College football has its minuses. But it has several pluses, too.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:36 AM on January 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The idea of separating the sports teams from the university is fascinating one.

Perhaps they should be paid. I fear that if they did there would be bullshit discrimination lawsuits that would insist that the female fencers which brings in $42.95 in revenues be paid the same as the football team which bring in millions of dollars.

It is crazy that the ones who generate the income have their work used to pay staff millions of dollars and to subsidize other less popular and less profitable sports.
posted by 2manyusernames at 11:39 AM on January 2, 2012


For most US professional sports colleges are their de facto farm clubs.

Umm... if you mean basketball and football then sure. Professional baseball and hockey don't draw too much from college athletes as they have set up their own farm system. Hockey as of 2010 had about 28% coming from colleges, the rest went through the CHL and similar leagues. Baseball doesn't draw a whole hell of a lot of players from the NCAA either as they will draft players straight out of high school to go play in rookie leagues.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:39 AM on January 2, 2012


There is no restriction on the type of education provided, either -- you can major in communications or chemistry. Your choice.
Just out of curiosity, how many Division I football players successfully graduate with degrees in chemistry? In theory, you could, but in truth the demands of a college chemistry major are probably incompatible with the demands of being a semi-professional football player.
Umm... if you mean basketball and football then sure.
If you read the article, you'll see that he means football and men's basketball. He's not concerned with other athletes.
posted by craichead at 11:42 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


People seem to miss the enormous amount of money that is provided in the form of scholarships for college players.

Okay, a full ride you say? I pulled the tuition costs for Ohio State, a classic football school. For a resident, the entire cost for one year, including room and board is $19,926. If being an athlete were a full time job working 2080 hours/year, it pays $9.58/hour. Hey, at least it's over minimum wage!
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:44 AM on January 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


It seems to me that it would be a lot easier to abolish big-time college athletics and return universities to their core educational mission.

Big-time college athletics didn't spring up out of nowhere. If college football and basketball (the only sports that ever turn a profit*) were abolished, how long do you think it would take for "intramural" teams to start attracting boosters and ringers, and start crippling people? Athletic departments aren't just in place to cash the checks -- they also provide varying degrees of medical support and oversight to ensure that even more exploitation isn't happening.

* -- For some schools, that is. Texas will always turn a profit, but Connecticut took a bath on its last BCS bowl.
posted by Etrigan at 11:47 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just out of curiosity, how many Division I football players successfully graduate with degrees in chemistry? In theory, you could, but in truth the demands of a college chemistry major are probably incompatible with the demands of being a semi-professional football player.

Probably very few, but don't miss the larger point, which is that the degree is only as bad as you make it to be. Want to major in physics? Go for it. Want to major in something worthless? That's also an option. The athletic department will provide tutoring for either. Just because most don't doesn't mean you can't.

You can point to hundreds of well-paid people that were college athletes. Here's one you may have heard of.

For a resident, the entire cost for one year, including room and board is $19,926. If being an athlete were a full time job working 2080 hours/year, it pays $9.58/hour. Hey, at least it's over minimum wage!

Umm ... you realize it's all tax-free, right? And the health care is included. So, go ahead and double your figures, and you land on $20 an hour. Not bad.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:50 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's also noted that the NCAA has only *allowed* 4-year scholarships, so most of the players are getting yearly scholarships based on their athletic performance which undermines the purpose by putting the incentive on excelling in athletics and just getting by academically.

Also, I wonder if college sports didn't exist as major commercial enterprises, perhaps many alumni would donate money (obviously not as much) to academics instead of sports.
posted by PJLandis at 11:50 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you read the article, you'll see that he means football and men's basketball. He's not concerned with other athletes.

Again, two sports does not equal "most US professional sports." If you continue with the 'secondary' sports in the US, meaning not hockey, baseball, football or basketball:

Soccer: Does recruit out of college, but has its own farm system.
Motor sports: There are no college motorsports.
Golf: Has multiple leagues under the PGA.
MMA/Boxing: Largely develop their own athletes, occasional wrestler from college will move up.
Tennis: Doesn't recruit out of college.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:51 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I wonder if college sports didn't exist as major commercial enterprises, perhaps many alumni would donate money (obviously not as much) to academics instead of sports.

Not only this, but I've noticed this at the private high school level lately too - millions of dollars being spent on athletics (stadiums, work out facilities, etc) for high school athletes, but no state of the art engineering or science labs to be found on campus.
posted by SirOmega at 11:57 AM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not only this, but I've noticed this at the private high school level lately too - millions of dollars being spent on athletics (stadiums, work out facilities, etc) for high school athletes, but no state of the art engineering or science labs to be found on campus.

It's called bread and circuses, look it up in a history book.
posted by phaedon at 12:03 PM on January 2, 2012


Probably very few, but don't miss the larger point, which is that the degree is only as bad as you make it to be. Want to major in physics? Go for it. Want to major in something worthless? That's also an option. The athletic department will provide tutoring for either. Just because most don't doesn't mean you can't.
I'm actually not sure this is right. I have no special knowledge of this at all, but I don't think you could, for instance, regularly miss physics labs and pass physics. College athletes have to schedule their classes around practice times, they have to miss a lot of classes for away games, and they have to finish their degree requirements on a strict schedule to maintain NCAA eligibility. That's easier to do in some departments than others, which is why college athletes tend to cluster in particular majors. In most schools, physics is a small enough department with enough required courses that it really might not be possible to make it work with athletic requirements. If the only introductory major-level physics class meets during practice, and the only way you can stay on track to graduate on time is to take that class in Fall of your Freshman year, then you can't major in physics and retain eligibility. At least, it sounds to me like that's how it works.
posted by craichead at 12:07 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


If being an athlete were a full time job working 2080 hours/year, it pays $9.58/hour. Hey, at least it's over minimum wage!

Except, I don't think it is. I seem to recall Rich Rodriguez getting in trouble with the NCAA when he was found to have his football players practicing for more than 20 hours a week. And I'm pretty sure they don't do any football practice during the winter semester, but I could be way off base on that assumption.
posted by NoMich at 12:07 PM on January 2, 2012


I'd prefer a reform that prohibited downward departures on academic admission criteria for recruited athletes in revenue sports. Draw the teams from the student body -- that's how you'd get football players graduating with chemistry degrees. It would also cause the creation of a few additional Ivy Leagues of academically elite Div I colleges which could no longer compete with less-academically-elite colleges broader compasses for recruiting athletes.
posted by MattD at 12:11 PM on January 2, 2012


only about half of college football athletes actually graduate in four years. But that's not usually the college's fault

Yeah, I've never heard of the athletes being pressured into taking easy courses and of professors being pressured into passing important athletes, so it's probably just that those football players don't want to graduate.
posted by jeather at 12:14 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I seem to recall Rich Rodriguez getting in trouble with the NCAA when he was found to have his football players practicing for more than 20 hours a week.

There's a lot of wiggle room in the "maximum hours of practice" rules, largely having to do with whether things are mandatory and whether coaches are present. No one in a big-time football or basketball program is only doing 20 hours a week of workouts, playbook studying and actual practices, even if it's not technically required by the coach. If you do the mandatory stuff, there's someone right behind you on the depth chart who's doing the mandatory stuff plus working out on his own on the weekends and during summer.
posted by Etrigan at 12:18 PM on January 2, 2012


I think the professional baseball system is better than NCAA football and basketball. There is a career path for athletes who don't want or need or qualify to go to college. There is a well regulated NCAA college system that doesn't make the huge media bucks that football and basketball do and presumably doesn't incur the same level of corruption (but there ARE scholarships for students who might not otherwise attend college). And, there are professional leagues at multiple levels. There are lots of silly objections to doing this in football (less so in basketball), but the only one that matters is the fact that there will be less money floating around.
posted by zomg at 12:47 PM on January 2, 2012


"N.C.A.A. rules make no allowance for poverty, yet surely college athletes should be able to go on a date, rent an off-campus apartment, lease a car, have some clothes, visit home and pay for their parents to see them play once in a while."

REALLY?

I guess I don't understand why these kids, who make a choice to go to School X to play Sport Y deserve anything at all. Loads of kids make choices to go to schools for any number of reasons, and loads of us have to really work to make ends meet and pay for things. Maybe NCAA rules don't make allowance for poverty, but neither does college in general.

If someone wants to pay them, fine, but it had better not be coming from my tuition money, when I can't afford dates, or a car, or visiting my folks either. A CAR?! Give me a break.
posted by papayaninja at 12:48 PM on January 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


The difference is they're working and your just studying. Imagine if they stopped paying you what your worth at your PT job because your a student not a professional.
posted by PJLandis at 1:00 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love my alma mater and I love sports. I do not want to "fix" NCAA football and basketball. I want them to die. Let the NFL and NBA do their own dirty work.
posted by bukvich at 1:01 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


So let me get this straight - in addition to free school, free health care and a bunch of adulation plus participating in a really fucked-up university athletic culture, college athletes should get to be rich, too, merely because university administrators have built up this stupid, abuse-generating PR machine around college sports? Nope, sorry. (We won't even talk about the various creepy illicit paper-writing and pandering services that seem so prevalent in big college sports.)

Plus, this would just be one more corporatization-of-education thing. Students should not get paid extra cash for being value-added to the school. Where does that end? Miss Minnesota 2012 gets extra money because she's on the news? Students get paid every time they generate media for the school? The school is there to serve the students, and although the huge amounts of money involved in college sports obscure the issue, students should not be treated like star employees.
posted by Frowner at 1:05 PM on January 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought the proposal was realistic and decently thought-through. I don't think you're going to sever the teams from the schools, ever, and if you can't, you need to pay the men on the field.
posted by maxwelton at 1:07 PM on January 2, 2012


The idea that NCAA football and men's basketball have a higher revenue than the NBA blew my mind. I'm not sure how I feel about paying athletes directly. I'd settle for them not being able to throw the kids away like a used tissues if they get hurt.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:09 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The school is there to serve the students, and although the huge amounts of money involved in college sports obscure the issue, students should not be treated like star employees."

Hahahahahaahha.
posted by stratastar at 1:09 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I should add, pay them in proportion to what their works brings the school in revenue.

Can those of you who are all a-lather at this explain what the issue is? From what I understand, these big-time sports are a net revenue generator for the schools, not a money-pit. I'm curious why people want to keep pretending the men playing the games are amateurs when they're clearly anything but.
posted by maxwelton at 1:10 PM on January 2, 2012


only about half of college football athletes actually graduate in four years

That's not much different than the four-year graduation rates for non-athletes; in fact, it's closer to 1/3 for all students at public colleges.
posted by mediareport at 1:26 PM on January 2, 2012


"The difference is they're working and your just studying. Imagine if they stopped paying you what your worth at your PT job because your a student not a professional."

1. Athletes are working and I'm "just studying?" Please.
2a. You're missing the 'choice' aspect still. They sign up for the 'job' knowing that they won't get paid. It's their choice, and it's their problem.
2b. You describe an unpaid internship, which many students have and often need to get into the workforce. And you can bet they aren't leasing cars.
posted by papayaninja at 1:28 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, go ahead and double your figures, and you land on $20 an hour. Not bad.

Ah yes, the "Those Old White Dudes Profitting Deserve It More" argument that's so popular during professional sports labor strife. Except in this case kids who can already afford college should benefit from the underclasses we send through a meat grinder for entertainment with the promise of "an education".
posted by yerfatma at 1:55 PM on January 2, 2012


You describe an unpaid internship, which many students have and often need to get into the workforce.

Unpaid internships don't typically carry the risk of crippling lifelong injury (for which you won't qualify for any sort of compensation, because you're a student-athlete and not an employee).
posted by gerryblog at 2:16 PM on January 2, 2012


Also, unpaid internships (at least technically) are supposed to primarily be of benefit to the intern, not to the host company; I'm pretty sure my state has a law that says the company should derive no business value from the intern's presence.

Obviously, it doesn't really work like that. But the intern analogy is pretty bad.
posted by downing street memo at 2:24 PM on January 2, 2012


But there are 100+ Division I colleges, each offering 80+ players per year a full ride scholarship, which includes room, board, books, tutoring, food and medical care.

And taking 8000+ Division I scholarship slots away from people able and willing to succeed at college in favor of athletics to act as a farm system to the NBA and NFL. At least MLB, MLS and the NHL operate real farm leagues. **

Unpaid internships don't typically carry the risk of crippling lifelong injury

You've never seen industrial internships then. Hell, between travel and worksite issues, I'll bet you that more college interns die on the job than NCAA Division I athletes.

** Funny how the NCAA Division I Baseball, Soccer and Hockey tourneys don't attract nearly the attention that the bowls and the march tournament do, hmmm?
posted by eriko at 2:28 PM on January 2, 2012


Friends and I have occasionally kicked around the idea of having colleges restricted to recruiting within their own home state(or maybe neighboring state for those small areas).
Even restricting to within conference would be interesting.

Sure, it probably wouldn't change much, but it'd be nice if my "home team", as it were, actually had someone on it from within 100 miles of the home.
posted by madajb at 3:13 PM on January 2, 2012


Salary caps for coaches.
Budget restrictions on programs.
Limits on yearly donations.

There are a lot of ways to reduce the amount of money flowing through college sports without turning the players into semi-pro.
posted by madajb at 3:16 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Side note: not every student-athlete gets a scholarship right away, nor do they always get full scholarships. Often they get partial scholarships, which can be a shock to parents and students hoping and counting on a full ride to afford school.
posted by ZeusHumms at 3:18 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've struggled to find a good answer to this question: To what extent if any do the big-sport profits fund scholarships and operating expenses for other sports (for men and women)?
posted by ambient2 at 3:23 PM on January 2, 2012


I guess I don't understand why these kids, who make a choice to go to School X to play Sport Y deserve anything at all. Loads of kids make choices to go to schools for any number of reasons, and loads of us have to really work to make ends meet and pay for things. Maybe NCAA rules don't make allowance for poverty, but neither does college in general.

If someone wants to pay them, fine, but it had better not be coming from my tuition money, when I can't afford dates, or a car, or visiting my folks either. A CAR?! Give me a break.


Someone correct me if I'm wrong here (I didn't see the articles address it directly, and it may have changed since the source I've got...?) but: if you want money for these things while you're a non-athlete student, then you get a job and make as much money as you can. If you're an athlete, the NCAA caps how much money you can earn during the school year - as of 1997, the cap was, at most, $2500. By my very rough estimates, this means as an athlete you could work like...12 hours a week (?) during the school year. I knew plenty of people in college whose part-time jobs were more hours than this, and therefore had the option of making more money if they so chose. Once again, please correct me if this is wrong - I know next to nothing about NCAA rules.
posted by naoko at 4:14 PM on January 2, 2012


To what extent if any do the big-sport profits fund scholarships and operating expenses for other sports (for men and women)?

This article has some numbers. It seems in some places, football and men's basketball can theoretically cover the cost of everything else, but that article doesn't actually go into how the actual budgets work. (For instance, the article uses Berkeley as an example. If I recall correctly, most of Tedford's salary is paid for by donations presumably earmarked for that purpose. I have no idea if that's counted as revenue or not. Either way it'll throw the calculations in the article off, as those won't be the only football-earmarked donations.)

What's curious to me is that women's sports other than basketball bring in more money and cost more money than the non-basketball/football men's sports. Is field hockey somehow crazy expensive? (Other than some women's sport being super expensive, I can see another possibility, that the other sports will just lose money across the board, but the women's teams are better than the men's teams (because they can't come second to football and men's basketball in the way the other men's teams can), so they cost more.)
posted by hoyland at 4:16 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Side note: not every student-athlete gets a scholarship right away, nor do they always get full scholarships. Often they get partial scholarships, which can be a shock to parents and students hoping and counting on a full ride to afford school.

Furthermore, they usually only get a scholarship for one year. Indeed, as the article points out, the NCAA recently voted to change the rules to simply allow (not require) multi-year scholarships, colleges started screaming and the plan has been put on hold.

That article has a couple quotes from athletics administrators that are really worth a read to see how screwed up this whole system has become. Take this from Indiana State's objection to the new rules:
"[The] problem is, many coaches, especially at the (Football Championship Subdivision) level, in all sports, are usually not around for five years and when the coach leaves, the new coach and institution may be 'stuck' with a student-athlete they no longer want (conduct issues, grades, etc.) or the new coach may have a completely different style of offense/defense that the student-athlete no longer fits into," the school wrote. "Yet, the institution is 'locked in' to a five-year contract potentially with someone that is of no athletic usefulness to the program."
Imagine that. A 17 or 18 year old student could be wooed by coaches, promised the moon, working their butt off in practices, and get dropped on his ass because the new coach doesn't like the looks of him. The same student may well have chosen a more affordable college, worked part/full time to save money, or accelerated their studies to graduate more quickly if athletics and athletic scholarships weren't a factor. It would really suck for the colleges if they had the option to make so much as a two-year promise to their athletes, wouldn't it? If the "student" in "student-athlete" really came first, colleges' educational commitments would last longer than students' "athletic usefulness."

If we're going to continue to have athletics scholarships at all, I think they need to work like college admission: a guarantee of continued education as long as the student continues to meet basic well-defined requirements.
posted by zachlipton at 4:17 PM on January 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The average scholarship, even for football and basketball (men's) is not a full ride. The NY Times did a pretty extensive analysis a few years ago. Here's the breakdown by sport.
posted by cushie at 4:41 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why are "college" and "athletics" at this level still connected at all? By "this level" I mean "college athletes who you'd want to pay." Why not just create a junior NBA / NFL where athletes can be paid and not have to worry about education that they don't want / value and likely won't use anyway? Is it because some colleges would lose huge amounts of money in endorsements and ticket sales? Any other reasons?

I ask because I generally and stereotypically dump really great college athletes into the bucket of people who probably aren't performing at the same level academically as their classmates. That's a flawed perspective, but I don't believe that most of the top big 10 football / basketball / etc players really want or are getting much of an education. Certainly (?) nothing they couldn't do later in life without being quite so distracted by hours of practice and games every week.
posted by pkingdesign at 5:34 PM on January 2, 2012


"Can those of you who are all a-lather at this explain what the issue is? From what I understand, these big-time sports are a net revenue generator for the schools, not a money-pit. "

"To what extent if any do the big-sport profits fund scholarships and operating expenses for other sports (for men and women)?"


It depends on the school. If you are at a Notre Dame or a Texas, not only is football generating revenue (to fund other athletics or, indeed, academics), but it also helps drive the value of the licensing on merchandise (Texas earned $8.2 million on licensing in 2005-2006) and helps bring in donations, alumni and otherwise. Moreover, the national profile from competitiveness in major college sports can help increase one's academic profile; Notre Dame's rise to national prominence was partly on the back of its nationally-popular football team that drew attention to a tiny school in the middle of nowhere. (And partly on the back of the patent for synthetic rubber, but I digress.) A bowl game or a good March Madness run increases applications, allowing the school to pick from a larger and potentially more talented pool of students.

If you're at a Wake Forest or a Bowling Green, football loses a little money and isn't funding the rest of the department. Here's some data. Still some of those schools see football or basketball as a good investment, hoping to raise their national profile to increase their academic pool, increase their alumni donations after a successful season, invest in hopefully higher future athletic earnings, etc.

"What's curious to me is that women's sports other than basketball bring in more money and cost more money than the non-basketball/football men's sports. Is field hockey somehow crazy expensive?"

I believe this is at least in part a Title IX issue (I think SI had a feature on women's basketball spending a few years ago where some schools were spending on ridiculous things to try to seek equity, and there were accusations of the increased money increasing corruption). But here's some more data.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:55 PM on January 2, 2012


madajb: "Salary caps for coaches.
Budget restrictions on programs.
Limits on yearly donations.

There are a lot of ways to reduce the amount of money flowing through college sports without turning the players into semi-pro.
"

Except for the donations (and limiting donations seem like an attack on free speech) those are limits on money flowing out but not on money flowing in.
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:24 PM on January 2, 2012


I believe this is at least in part a Title IX issue (I think SI had a feature on women's basketball spending a few years ago where some schools were spending on ridiculous things to try to seek equity, and there were accusations of the increased money increasing corruption).

This isn't my area of expertise, by a long shot, but I wonder if Title IX is something of a red herring (in that people like to blame women's sports for everything involving sports programs losing money). As far as I can tell, Title IX doesn't require equal/proportional funding in men's and women's sports, except when it comes to scholarships. However, football teams are so big that that could be what's creating the odd gender disparity in the non-football/basketball sports--the 'small sport' men's teams have fewer scholarships because they all went to the football team.
posted by hoyland at 8:31 PM on January 2, 2012


However, football teams are so big that that could be what's creating the odd gender disparity in the non-football/basketball sports--the 'small sport' men's teams have fewer scholarships because they all went to the football team.

The football team that, in most cases, pays for (the bulk of) the men's and women's scholarships.
posted by Etrigan at 8:49 PM on January 2, 2012


"in addition to free school, free health care and a bunch of adulation plus participating in a really fucked-up university athletic culture, college athletes should get to be rich, too"

Yes. Absolutely, yes.

This is an issue of social justice. College athletes in football and basketball generate billions of dollars of revenue for their respective schools.

To not pay them is to exploit them.

And guess what? Given the numbers of black athletes, not paying them is racist as hell.
posted by bardic at 8:53 PM on January 2, 2012


Except for the donations (and limiting donations seem like an attack on free speech) those are limits on money flowing out but not on money flowing in.

I'm not sure you have a free speech right to donate to a college athletic program, but I'd be willing to let the courts sort that out.

I think a restriction on the budgets of athletic departments would certainly stifle the flow of money coming in (or at least redirect it to something academic, which is a Good Thing(tm)).
For example, if each Division I school athletic department was limited to, say, a $35 million total budget(with a reduction each year until they reach at least spitting distance of the other departments), then the over-sized presence of big-name sponsors, TV appearances, etc would be diminished, and donors looking to get their name on something might consider a new laboratory or academic journal subscription.

Similarly with coaching salaries. One of the big arguments is that coaches get paid $bignum and players get squat. If you limited each coach to some percentage of the highest paid faculty member, then that argument would be much reduced.
posted by madajb at 9:25 PM on January 2, 2012


Why are "college" and "athletics" at this level still connected at all? By "this level" I mean "college athletes who you'd want to pay." Why not just create a junior NBA / NFL where athletes can be paid and not have to worry about education that they don't want / value and likely won't use anyway? Is it because some colleges would lose huge amounts of money in endorsements and ticket sales? Any other reasons?

Who would pay for a proper development league for the NFL or NBA that replaces the hundreds of schools that participate in one or the other?

Colleges do benefit from the advertising that comes from having competitive athletic programs, but that varies from division to division, and always seemed hard to quantify for me.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:27 PM on January 2, 2012


The VAST majority of college athletes are not going into a career in the NFL or NBA. It's a legit way for thousands of kids to get to attend college that wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity. I know many, many people who got partial or full athletic scholarships and only one of them became a successful professional athlete, the rest all used the opportunity to get a degree and a good job like any other college student.
posted by fshgrl at 9:31 PM on January 2, 2012


I ask because I generally and stereotypically dump really great college athletes into the bucket of people who probably aren't performing at the same level academically as their classmates. That's a flawed perspective, but I don't believe that most of the top big 10 football / basketball / etc players really want or are getting much of an education. Certainly (?) nothing they couldn't do later in life without being quite so distracted by hours of practice and games every week.

It's a mixed lot. Some are there just because it's someplace to be. Most understand that they won't be going pro, or that they need to prepare for life beyond athletics. Many probably wouldn't either be able to afford school and/or be able to get in without athletics making up for mediocre test scores and high school records. For a lot of students, the athletic scholarship is a big difference maker.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:36 PM on January 2, 2012


College athletes in football and basketball generate billions of dollars of revenue for their respective schools.

I hear this a lot, but is there any hard evidence of this? I want to see this seriously questioned. Do athletic programs turn a profit for the college or university they belong to? Have y'all looked at the books? Are they publicly available? I'd bet not, because I think that's their dirty secret.

I have seen evidence to the contrary: UCSB did a study of what it would cost to reestablish an NCAA football program 20-odd years ago. Even with what I considered to be optimistic development donation projections, it would require money from student fees to operate, and thus had to be put to a vote of the student body. Fortunately they overwhelmingly voted it down.

I suspect if you're not USC or Notre Dame your football program does not give money back to the rest of the campus, and I imagine in many cases of the smaller schools the program does not even pay for itself.
posted by zomg at 7:18 AM on January 3, 2012


zomg, did you look at the links I posted above? Not only does the NCAA audit the books of the various athletic departments every year, but the DoE does as well if the school takes federal money. I-990s are available for private non-profit schools and the full books via FOIA for state schools. There are copious articles on this literally every year. Some schools do well off sports; for some it is a money pit. (And, yes, when I was a college reporter, we looked at the books, pretty much every year.)

At Notre Dame, the football program funds the rest of the athletic department and a chunk of the University's need-based and academic scholarship funds, as well as other University needs -- about $10 million in 2009 back OUT of athletics and into the University. Moreover, alumni who want to buy tickets must first donate to the University's general fund ($100 for alumni who've been out more than 5 years, IIRC) to receive the right to "bid" on tickets. That is a substantial chunk into need-based and academic scholarships funds as well.

(Notre Dame does this, incidentally, while graduating the highest percentage of its football players in the FBS (96%), with average SAT scores of 1025 -- lower than the average student score of 1400ish, but not basement low. Notre Dame has what is considered one of the most challenging undergraduate core curricula in the country, along with UChicago and Princeton, and requires all students to take two semesters of theology, two of philosophy, one of social science, one of literature, two of math (and pass calculus), two of science, one fine arts, two of a foreign language, one of writing, one or two of history, I forget, and an ethics class applicable to one's program of studies -- and that's University-wide; one can't escape it by, say, enrolling in American studies or marketing or whatever. Each college has further core requirements (Arts & Letters requires 3 semesters of foreign language, for example, and has a required Great Books course) as well as major requirements. Core requirements can only be skipped by AP'ing out. There is an athletic tutoring program -- for all athletes -- but athletes, including football players, are in normal classes with all the other students. It's a jocky campus, for sure, but there are some seriously smart jocks out there.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:29 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Taylor Branch article is excellent.
posted by latkes at 9:13 PM on January 3, 2012


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