According to former sports agent Josh Luchs, amateurism in college sports (most notably, football and men’s basketball) is like Prohibition, “neither one of them works effectively.”

“Like Prohibition, the NCAA member institutions have created this underground marketplace without adequate and effective oversight,” said Luchs in a Q&A article by Patrick Hruby. “As long as you don’t address the needs of the student athletes, you’re going to continue to fuel the efforts of the bootleggers — in this case, the agents and runners — who are fulfilling those needs.”

The focus of colleges and universities should be education, not athletics. Big-time commercialized and professionalized college sports (primarily football and men’s basketball) corrupt higher education on many levels. These entertainment sports are about meeting commercial objectives, (see the recent conference realignment money grab craze for evidence), and, to a lesser degree, public relations objectives. Somewhere further down the list comes education.

Colleges and universities should have two choices when it comes to athletics:

1) Adopt the Division III/Ivy League model, which includes a ban on athletic scholarships. This model allows students, who are also athletes, to be students first, while providing the opportunity to compete in athletics as part of the overall educational experience.

2) At the Division I-A level (most notably in the BCS conferences), football, men’s basketball, and any other sport generating significant revenue, should be removed from the school’s athletic department and be reclassified as a business subsidiary under the university umbrella. The athletes would be paid. Scholarships would be allowed as part of the overall compensation package, but course enrollment would be optional.

To prevent athletes with huge market value from realizing that market value, while allowing schools to bring in millions of dollars of revenue and pay coaches up to $5 million a year is a shame. And, as civil rights historian Taylor Branch has said, it’s the civil rights issue of our time.

If the big-time Division I-A schools refuse these two options, in an effort at maintaing the status quo, the school’s athletic departments should have their educational tax-exempt status removed for the big business sports of football and men’s basketball — at a minimum. Undoubtedly, they will resist change. Thus, their tax-exempt status needs to be seriously challenged.

The current system in big-time college sports isn’t sustainable. The athletes are being exploited under the cover of archaic amateurism rules. The Olympics finally chucked their outdated model of amateurism. It’s time for the NCAA to follow suit.

“As long as the market for [college athletes] exists, you will have people who have a business model — under the table or otherwise — that tailors to that marketplace. And as long as that gap exists and the athletes have no other way to fill it, they’re being set up for scandal and failure,” says Luchs.

Prohibition in college sports is a failure. Let’s end it.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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