The cover story in the September/October 2011 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review is an excellent analysis of how the sports media covers problems in college sports. The story, titled “The Scandal Beat,” by Daniel Libit, talks about how the relatively small group of sports journalists that actually report and comment on the problems in college sports focus on corruption within the current NCAA system — primarily rule-breaking by coaches, administrators, athletes and boosters — and not a “system that is fundamentally broken.”
The Scandal Beat, Libit writes, “with its drama and spectacular falls from grace, is much less adept at managing the next step: a robust discussion, prominently and persistently conducted, of why these scandals keep happening and what can be done to prevent them.” Later, he adds that sports reporters, even very good ones, tend to focus on “straightforward coverage of the NCAA and its rules — and the inevitable violations of those rules — rather than coverage that challenges the validity of the rules themselves, and the system that upholds them.”
When it comes to problems in college sports, Scandal Beat sports journalists are very good at answering the “what” questions and not so good at the “why” questions. Addressing the rule-breaking scandals is only dealing with symptoms, not root causes. And as Libit alludes to, as long as the sports media watchdogs keep focusing on the rule-breakers and ignoring the model of college athletics itself, nothing will change but the particulars of the next scandal.
The vast majority of scandals and rule-breaking incidents in college sports are tied to one fact: college sports are a highly commercialized enterprise. Given that fact, the big story is the economic injustice of adults getting rich off college sports and not sharing any of the revenue with the players who who are responsible for creating it.
This is a story about a college sports system that ignores the market value of its top athletes; a system that allows coaches, athletic directors, bowl game executives, and television networks to make a lot of money on the backs of athletes getting tuition, room and board. It’s about universities abusing the non-profit tax exempt status we’ve given them as a society as they conduct hugely commercial operations in football and men’s basketball (and a few women’s basketball programs) under the guise of education and amateurism.
In March, HBO’s “Real Sports” did a story that found that “members of the University of Texas’ 2009 football team were worth $630,000 while those of last year’s national champion Duke University men’s basketball team were worth $1.2 million each.” This comes at a time when the median grant-in-aid package for college athletes is $27,923. When looking at those numbers, it becomes clear that economic injustice is the real story in college sports, not athletes selling their own memorabilia.
Why do we tolerate a college sports system like this?
Why are elite athletics tied into our educational system in the first place? It’s not that way around the world, why is it that way in the United States?
As a society, we need our Scandal Beat reporters to transition their public-service journalism skills to answering “why” questions like these instead of sticking to the “what” questions.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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 long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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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.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
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