By Ken Reed
The June 10th issue of Sports Illustrated had a very telling story about the state of college sports in this country. The article, titled Go For It On Fourth and Multiply, by Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples, highlights the mushrooming staffs of big-time college football programs in this country. For example, the University of Alabama last year employed 24 non-coaching support staff members for the football team alone. Those support staff members were paid $1.6 million. The 24 staff members, in areas such as operations, player personnel, football analysis, strength and conditioning, athletic relations, and video, are in addition to the head coach, nine assistant coaches and four graduate assistant coaches. The cost for the coaching staff is around $10 million more. Nick Saban, Alabama’s head coach, is making more than $5 million a year by himself.
And I haven’t even mentioned the millions of dollars going towards new or upgraded luxury locker rooms and training facilities for these programs.
Alabama brings millions of dollars of revenue in every year from television and radio contracts, ticket sales, sponsorships, etc. They’re rolling in the dough, primarily because they don’t have to compensate the athletes responsible for these revenue streams at anything close to their fair marketplace value.
To be sure, Alabama is far from the only school caught up in this big-time college sports arms race. Top football and basketball programs across the country are doing much the same thing. The issue at hand is do these sports operations more closely resemble pro sports enterprises (which should be taxed as such) or extracurricular activities designed to enhance the educational experience of athletically-inclined college students?
Obviously, that’s a rhetorical question, yet Alabama, along with about 75 other big-time sports universities, are allowed to operate their highly-commercialized athletic departments under their school’s non-profit educational institution umbrella.
The reality is, the mission of big-time college sports factories is far from the NCAA’s stated purpose of integrating “intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student athlete is paramount.”
“If you don’t have some parameters in place, you could eventually have a football staff member for every two or three [players], and I don’t think that’s healthy for the industry,” says Greg Byrne, University of Arizona’s athletic director. Nevertheless, Arizona and other Division I colleges continue to play along, seemingly stuck in a high-stakes game of “Keeping Up With the Jones’.” For their part, the NCAA is afraid to clamp down too much on this steady expansion of college sports behemoths. They’re afraid if they push too hard, or penalize too much, the Alabamas, and Ohio States of the world will tell the NCAA to take a hike, and then form their own governing body apart from the NCAA.
Where this all ends is hard to predict. But we do know that big-time college sports is filled with hypocrisy. Many NCAA administrators, college and university presidents, athletic directors, and coaches constantly talk about their educational values and the importance of ‘student-athletes’ getting an education. But their actions speak louder than their words. Every decision they make seems to be driven by revenue-at-all-costs and/or win-at-all-costs motives, not educational ethos.
At some point, that has to change.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO. He discusses the use of Native American names and logos by sports teams and the decisions to drop the Chief Wahoo logo and the upcoming change to the team name. Other baseball topics include health and safety, possible MLB rule changes and youth participation in the sport.
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Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Episode #8 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Save College Sports From Overcommercialization and Professionalization? – The guest is Dr. David Ridpath, a sports business professor and past president of the Drake Group
Episode #7 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Brain Trauma and CTE Risk in Sports With Dr. Ann McKee – Dr. McKee works in the field of neuropathology and has demonstrated that “mild” repetitive head trauma can provoke chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a devastating neurodegenerative disease.
Episode #6 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Need for Quality Physical Education in Our Schools is Greater Than Ever – The guest is Clayton Ellis, one of our nation’s leading advocates for getting our young people to be more physically active.
Episode #5 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Youth Sports with Positive Coaching Alliance Founder Jim Thompson – Thompson started Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) in 1998 to help create a movement to transform the culture of youth sports from “win-at-all-costs” to a positive, character-building experience.
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.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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.
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