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


Comments are closed.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.