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


Comments are closed.

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