A League of Fans Special Feature
Joe Nocera is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, been a business writer, and served as a writer and editor for Fortune magazine for 10 years. He frequently writes about the NCAA and college sports issues, including a lengthy piece earlier this year for The New York Times Magazine entitled, “Let’s Start Paying College Athletes.” A former high school basketball player, Nocera tangled with college and pro stars Marvin Barnes and Ernie DiGregorio while growing up in Providence, Rhode Island.
Nocera’s college sports reform plan for football and men’s basketball has five elements: 1) A free-market approach to recruiting that would allow college programs to offer athletes actual contracts just like pro teams do; 2) a salary cap for every team, including a minimum annual salary for every scholarship football and men’s basketball player; 3) Six-year scholarships which could be used to complete a bachelor’s or get a master’s degree; 4) Lifetime health insurance for players; and 5) The creation of an organization to represent both current and former college players.
Nocera was interviewed by Ken Reed, League of Fans’ Sports Policy Director.
Ken Reed: What made you start researching and writing about issues in college sports?
Joe Nocera: In looking at the NCAA it became apparent that they have a bunch of egregious rules when it comes to the treatment of players. The current system basically screws a bunch of kids, a lot of them disadvantaged kids. They have a labor force that does all the work but doesn’t get paid. It’s a plantation system. The NCAA has lost their sense of mission.
This is not really a sports issue. It’s a civil rights issue. It’s a race issue and justice issue. It’s about American values and the right way to treat people you have power over.
KR: Most sports reformers look at the scandals and problems in college sports and see a fairly complex issue. You seem to think the solution is pretty straightforward, correct?
JN: I do. I think the college situation can be fixed fairly easily. The NCAA is a heartless organization. But it’s overseen by the universities who could fix it tomorrow.
First, they have to change the way they think about amateurism. They’re hanging on to this old idea of amateurism for dear life. The Olympics was the same way but they gave up their view of amateurism a long time ago.
Another obvious problem is that universities are ill-equipped to run a $6 billion entertainment business.
But the big issue is that everybody’s trying to deny there’s a marketplace here. They look at big-time college football and basketball like it’s an extracurricular activity like chess club.
Look, if you pay the players, 95% of wrong doing goes away. If you allow players to be paid, the booster stuff goes away. And who cares if an agent pays for Mom to go on a recruiting trip with her son?
KR: If you pay football players and men’s college basketball players aren’t you looking at Title IX issues?
JN: First, title IX is about equality of opportunity, not equality of money. Second, if you walled off football and men’s basketball and classified them as employees of the university I don’t think there would be a Title IX issue. They wouldn’t be part of university life, they’d be part of a giant entertainment complex.
KR: What about the women’s basketball programs that make money?
JN: Women’s basketball makes money on maybe five campuses. If women’s basketball becomes a revenue-generating sport on a larger scale, include them and make them university employees too. We’re a long ways from that.
KR: What’s your take on the universities that say they can’t afford to pay athletes?
JN: I don’t have patience with schools that say they can’t pay players because they don’t have the money. A lot of these schools pay their coach $4 million. If you can’t pay the players then get out of the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision).
Right now, the idea of paying players is a foreign concept in college sports. The NCAA can adapt. Major League Baseball (MLB) was against free agency. They adapted. With MLB, the players had to fight for free agency in order to get more money. College football and basketball players don’t have an organization to fight on their behalf. In the end, the labor force has to stand up for itself. But these are 18-year-old kids looking to make money in the pros, their future’s in front of them.
KR: How do you think this issue plays out?
JN: Reform will probably come from the courts in the form of antitrust legislation against the NCAA. And a players’ organization in some form – driven from outside the sport – will evolve to fight for the players.
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #22 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Rethinking Sports Fandom with Author Craig Calcaterra – We discuss Calcaterra’s new book “Rethinking Fandom: How to Beat the Sports-Industrial Complex at Its Own Game” and explore new ways to be a fan in the year 2022.
Follow on Facebook: @SportsForumPodcast
Episode #21 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Chatting About a Broken Game With Baseball Writer Pedro Moura – Moura is a national baseball writer for Fox Sports. We discuss how and why the game of baseball is broken, what factors caused it, and offer a few thoughts on how to “fix” a great game.
Episode #20 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Coaching Youth and High School Sports Based On What’s Best for the Athlete’s Holistic Development – We chat with long-time youth, high school and college basketball coach Jim Huber.
Episode #19 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Capturing the Spirit of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League with Anika Orrock – We discuss the hoops AAGPFL women had to jump through to play the game they loved as well as the long-term impact and legacy they have in advancing sports opportunities for girls and women.
Episode #18 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking about the 50th Anniversary of Title IX and the Lia Thomas Controversy with Nancy Hogshead-Makar – Hogshead-Makar is a triple gold medalist in swimming, a civil rights attorney and CEO of Champion Women.
Episode #17 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports With Legendary New York Times Sports Columnist Robert Lipsyte – We chat about Lipsyte’s amazing career and some of the athletes he covered.
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.
- League of Fans Sports Policy Director Ken Reed quoted in Washington Post column titled "What happened to P.E.? It’s losing ground in our push for academic improvement," by Jay Mathews
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Order from Amazon
Ken Reed’s Author Page on Amazon