By Ken Reed
College sports are on the precipice of a brand new era. Change is coming, it’s most definitely coming.
The highly-commercial, big-time college sports factories want to separate from the smaller, poorer conferences and schools. That’s been the case for awhile but now they’re getting vocal about it. They want to make their own rules, and divide up the money as they see fit — among a much smaller group.
The driving force is … you guessed it: greed. Good old-fashioned greed.
The powers that be in college sports — conference commissioners, athletic directors, college presidents, television network executives, video game moguls, etc. — want more money and they want to continue keeping the money away from the athletes whose work is responsible for creating all the moulah in the first place.
The commissioners of the Big Five college conferences — the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, ACC and Big 12 — are openly advocating “transformative change,” according to an excellent piece by George Schroeder and Dan Wolken in USA Today this week.
The Pac 12’s Bob Bowlsby says it’s time to entertain a new college sports “federation” of schools with similar resources, and possibly separation by sport. ACC commissioner John Swofford predicted major structural and governance changes could be implemented at the NCAA’s upcoming conference in January.
“I think some kind of reconfiguration of how we govern is in order,” said Bowlsby.
Here’s what the big-time schools want: independence from that annoying NCAA and retention of the non-profit tax-exempt status they currently enjoy as “educational entities.” Good luck with that. If the Big Five conferences separate from the rest of the NCAA, and start acting more like the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Lakers, the Justice Department, Congress, and IRS will undoubtedly (perhaps the operative word here is hopefully, not undoubtedly) take a serious look at that tax-exempt status. Of course, they should be doing that right now, as more and more of the big-time college sports programs are openly hiring business executives with extensive corporate marketing and fundraising experience — and little to no college sports experience — to run their athletic departments.
On another front, the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA and Electronic Arts — which argues that college athletes’ likenesses shouldn’t be used without the athletes themselves gaining some financial benefits — is currently being considered for class action status. If the O’Bannon case goes in that direction, it could preempt the big-time conference commissioners when it comes to “transforming” the current NCAA structure. If O’Bannon is successful, the current college sports economic model will disappear and college athletes will gain a civil rights victory and a measure of economic justice.
Nevertheless, by whatever means, the NCAA, as it currently operates, needs to be blown up. Let the big-time schools and conferences go their own way — as long as their football and basketball players are treated fairly from an economic perspective. The remaining universities and colleges could then give up the sports arms race and focus on putting college athletics in its proper perspective on campus.
There’s no use resisting the inevitable. The train has left the station. Let’s get on with this “transformative change” of college sports.
— 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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