NCAA Division I sports — most notably football and men’s basketball — are about money, prestige, public relations and bragging rights.  The education and overall college experience of the athletes is a secondary consideration.

More evidence that this is indeed the case was revealed a couple days ago when an Associated Press report showed that the commissioners of the six power conferences (Big Ten, ACC, Southeastern, Big 12, Pac-10, and Big East) had salaries that on average significantly outpaced the compensation of most university presidents.  According to a review of 2009 data, the Big Ten’s commissioner, Jim Delaney, was the highest paid commissioner at $1.6 million, followed by ACC commissioner John Swofford at $1.1 million.

While the conference commissioners are doing very well relative to the actual educators on college campuses, their incomes pale relative to the highest paid college football and basketball coaches.  For example, Texas football coach Mack Brown makes about $5 million a year, while Alabama’s gridiron boss Nick Saban hauls in $4.7 million.

In the highly commercialized and professionalized setting that is big-time college sports, there is little room for educational pursuits.  Training for all Division I sports — not just football and basketball — is now virtually a year-round proposition for student-athletes.  Top-level college athletes are lucky to get two weeks at home in the summer and — depending on the sport — a week with family during the holidays.  And if the coaches of these athletes deem their performance on the field or court below par, they can yank the players’ scholarships — even if the “student-athletes” are pulling 4.0 GPAs in the classroom.  Remember, it’s about winning, and money, not education.  To be sure, there’s little “scholar” in the term “athletic scholarships.”  The big-time college football and basketball players that do manage to get a quality education must be commended for overcoming a plethora of professionalization hurdles on campus.

“I can’t imagine that the well-being and growth of student-athletes is of paramount importance when there’s that level of compensation,” said Dave Czesniuk, senior associate director at Northeastern University’s Sport in Society, when told of the commissioners’ pay.

— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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