It’s been more than 25 years since SMU received the NCAA’s “death penalty” for widespread corruption in its athletic program. At the time, it was hoped SMU’s severe penalty would cause other big-time college programs to be scared straight. However, in the quarter century since SMU’s football program was shut down nothing’s changed. In fact, things have gotten worse. We’re in the midst of arguably the worst year ever for major college sports scandals.
It’s time to give this country’s college sports system the death penalty and start over with a blank sheet of paper. History shows that modest reform measures simply don’t work in the highly commercialized and professionalized college sports of football and basketball. Nowhere is that history laid out better than in The Atlantic magazine’s October 2011 cover story “The Shame of College Sports.”
In my mind, the term “must read” should be used judiciously in order to maintain one’s credibility. As such, I rarely recommend an article by describing it as a “must read.” That said, I believe if you care about college sports — or sports in general because what’s happening at the college level also impacts the youth, high school and professional levels — you must read this article. Written by civil-rights historian Taylor Branch, it provides an excellent overview of how college sports in this country have evolved to the mess we see now.
Branch makes a compelling case that big-time college football and basketball players should be entitled to a piece of the millions of dollars they generate. A recent study by the National College Players Association (NCPA) also contends that college athletes should receive more of the revenue they produce (See “The Price of Poverty in Big Time College Sport“). The NCPA study contends that “if allowed access to the fair market like the pros, the average FBS [NCAA Division 1-A] football and basketball player would be worth approximately $121,048 and $265,027 respectively (not counting individual commercial endorsement deals).”
However, the ultimate solution to the college sports problem isn’t as simple as “Pay the Players.” While The Atlantic article and NCPA study raise some excellent points, it’s important to make some distinctions when using the term “college sports” because college athletics in this country vary widely: from NCAA Division III athletics, where no athletic scholarships are provided, to NCAA Division I-A (FBS) football, which is clearly a highly commercialized and professionalized enterprise. The philosophy and operations of the athletic department at the University of Illinois are much different than they are at Division III’s University of Chicago. Men’s water polo and women’s golf at a western Division II school are much different animals than football at Ohio State and Michigan. Should the Division II tennis player be paid the same as the Big Ten football player? And should big-time football players be paid a market rate or should there be a salary/compensation cap of some kind? And what do we do about Title IX when it comes to the topic of paying college athletes?
The point is, the world of college sports is bigger than the football and basketball games that fill television screens on the weekends. Any new model must consider college athletics as a whole, not just big-time football and men’s basketball.
Here’s one person’s suggestion for a good place to start on an “overhaul college athletics” project:
1) Remove the non-profit tax-exempt status of big-time college athletic departments — who masquerade as educational institutions while operating like the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
“No hypocrisy” should be the operative mantra as we move forward in the world of college sports.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon