As college football bowl season gets into full swing, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera reminds us that the games will generate millions in revenue for the schools and coaches – and almost nothing for the kids actually playing:
The hypocrisy that permeates big-money college sports takes your breath away. College football and men’s basketball have become such huge commercial enterprises that together they generate more than $6 billion in annual revenue, more than the National Basketball Association. A top college coach can make as much or more than a professional coach; Ohio State just agreed to pay Urban Meyer $24 million over six years. Powerful conferences like the S.E.C. and the Pac 12 have signed lucrative TV deals, while the Big 10 and the University of Texas have created their own sports networks. Companies like Coors and Chick-fil-A eagerly toss millions in marketing dollars at college sports. Last year, Turner Broadcasting and CBS signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal for the television rights to the N.C.A.A.’s men’s basketball national championship tournament (a k a “March Madness”). And what does the labor force that makes it possible for coaches to earn millions, and causes marketers to spend billions, get? Nothing. The workers are supposed to be content with a scholarship that does not even cover the full cost of attending college. Any student athlete who accepts an unapproved, free hamburger from a coach, or even a fan, is in violation of N.C.A.A. rules.
This glaring, and increasingly untenable, discrepancy between what football and basketball players get and what everyone else in their food chain reaps has led to two things. First, it has bred a deep cynicism among the athletes themselves. Players aren’t stupid. They look around and see jerseys with their names on them being sold in the bookstores. They see 100,000 people in the stands on a Saturday afternoon. During the season, they can end up putting in 50-hour weeks at their sports, and they learn early on not to take any course that might require real effort or interfere with the primary reason they are on campus: to play football or basketball. The N.C.A.A. can piously define them as students first, but the players know better. They know they are making money for the athletic department. The N.C.A.A.’s often-stated contention that it is protecting the players from “excessive commercialism” is ludicrous; the only thing it’s protecting is everyone else’s revenue stream. (The N.C.A.A. itself takes in nearly $800 million a year, mostly from its March Madness TV contracts.) “Athletes in football and basketball feel unfairly treated,” Leigh Steinberg, a prominent sports agent, says. “The dominant attitude among players is that there is no moral or ethical reason not to take money, because the system is ripping them off.”
I’ve never understood why progressives aren’t more outraged by the NCAA. Want a perfect example of a corrupt system that protects the profits of the 1% at the expense of the 99%? This is it. And if you haven’t read Taylor Branch’s The Shame of College Sports, go do it right now.