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 #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, and has a long involvement with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). We discuss the state of college athletics today, given the pressures of NIL, the transfer portal, sports gambling and huge media contracts. McMillen then provides great perspective on the poor state of physical fitness our young people are experiencing today.
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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.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
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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