Here we go again.
The University of Texas and University of Oklahoma are reportedly exploring the possibility of leaving the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in search of more money and exposure for their athletic programs.
The American college sports landscape has changed rapidly in the last several months. The United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) can’t prohibit college athletes from receiving benefits related to their education, such as laptops, paid internships, etc.
That decision leads to the question of whether the NCAA can prohibit compensation and benefits of any kind to college athletes?
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a concurring opinion “to underscore that the NCAA’s remaining compensation rules also raise serious questions under the antitrust laws.”
“The NCAA’s amateur ideals are contrived,” says civil rights historian and author Taylor Branch.
A significant leap toward economic justice for American college athletes occurred this month when a number of new state laws forced the NCAA to allow athletes benefit from the use of their names, images and likenesses.
The NCAA is gradually being pushed to restore the civil and economic rights of college athletes.
But problems remain.
Allowing athletes to benefit economically is great but why are institutions of higher education involved in a huge entertainment business in the first place?
Numerous sports scandals involving athletic departments have tarnished the reputations of many universities. Cheating in recruiting certainly won’t go away following these latest developments. College athletes still don’t have the right to unionize, not just for economic reasons but for safety reasons as well.
The American college sports system was ill-conceived from day one.
The United States is among the few countries in the world where elite athletic teams are sponsored by educational institutions, rather than by government programs, large club organizations or professional franchises.
In most countries, colleges and universities offer physical education, intramural-type athletics programs, and maybe small club sports teams (usually student-run), but nothing like what we see with big-time football and men’s basketball in America.
Universities shouldn’t be running multi-billion-dollar entertainment businesses.
This isn’t a new revelation. In 1939, University of Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins saw the problem clearly and decided to drop big-time football at his school because of the overt commercialism and lack of integrity involved in college sports. A 55,000-seat stadium was knocked to the ground.
“To be successful, one must cheat. Everyone is cheating and I refuse to cheat,” said Hutchins.
Other college presidents have failed to follow Hutchins’ lead. In fact, a lot of them have exacerbated the problem. School presidents, with rare exceptions, have caved in to pressures from pro-entertainment sport interests. Often those pressures come from members of a school’s board of trustees, who have a warped view of campus priorities.
“It’s about leadership,” says John Gerdy, a longtime college sports administrator and sports management professor. “If there’s any institution in society that needs to stand up and say education is more important than athletics, it has to be our universities. They have to provide leadership on athletics in education.
“Our education system is in crisis. In this global economy, the only way we’re going to be successful as a country is to have a strong education system. Education has to be more important than athletics. But if you watch how some of our biggest universities act, you’d have to conclude that athletics are more important than education.”
The NCAA’s stated purpose is “to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student athlete is paramount.”
Obviously, that mission statement is a joke when it comes to actual practice in big-time college athletics.
It’s doubtful that a highly commercialized and professionalized sports system, which includes 100,000-seat stadiums and multi-billion-dollar TV contracts, is the best way to pursue the NCAA’s mission of making the “educational experience of the student athlete paramount.”
“I thought all this conference realignment we’ve had in recent years was very sad,” says former NFL player turned sports reformer Joe Ehrmann. “Here we had presidents of universities, who are supposed to be protecting and promoting the mission of education, approving the pulling of their schools out of conferences solely to chase the TV money in two sports, football and men’s basketball.”
Based on the flirting going on between the SEC and Texas and Oklahoma, it appears school presidents are still at it – the seemingly never-ending quest to seek greater revenues for their already bloated athletic departments.
“Grow sports revenues at all costs.” That continues to be the mantra of the leaders of major U.S. universities.
There’s one thing of which we can be sure: This latest money grab will have nothing to do with education.
Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (leagueoffans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports. For interview requests, click here.
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