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New York TimesIn remarkably clear and clear-eyed prose (even his charts are readable), Zimbalist follows the money instead of the ball in the emotion-charged world of college sports.
— Robert Lipsyte
"Even for the best-intentioned coaches and athletic directors, the landscape of big-time college sports is increasingly treacherous. Is any part of the 'ideal' of college sports salvageable? Andrew Zimbalist's book makes a valuable contribution for the consideration of that question."--Bob Costas
"In the straightforward, analytical manner that is the trademark of his work, Zimbalist clarifies the contradictions inherent in the paradoxical marriage between higher education and big-time college athletics. He challenges the NCAA to come to grips with some of the less appealing by-products of the organization's phenomenal growth and success."--Billy Hunter, executive director, National Basketball Players Association
"It's impossible to read this unsparing examination of the tension between the noble ideals of the academy and the base reality of the athletic-industrial complex that the academy has created, and not wonder: Why do we put up with it?"--Alexander Wolff, senior writer with Sports Illustrated, coauthor of Raw Recruits
"Zimbalist has executed a masterful analysis of how and why colleges and universities have increasingly commercialized athletic programs. He unmasks the dichotomy of the 'student-athlete' and reveals the reality and shortcomings of their compensation systems. His insightful look at the economic and government pressures compounding this schizophrenic system and his recommendations for either changing it or more effectively coping make for 'must' reading by any student or fan of sports."--Donna A. Lopiano, Ph.D., Executive Director, Women's Sports Foundation
"Through hard-headed investigation, detailed analysis, and lively storytelling, Andrew Zimbalist confirms the truth about major college athletics: that commercial motives and rewards give lie to the very ideals that define higher education. Unpaid Professionals is the starting point for all readers interested in knowing how we reached this sad state of affairs, and how we can get beyond it."--Tom McMillen, Head of the President's Council on Physical Fitness, and former NBA player and US congressman
"Andrew Zimbalist's book shatters the myth of the purity of college athletics and exposes it for what it is, big business. This insightful look into college athletics should be required reading for all incoming student-athletes."--Jim McIlvaine, center, New Jersey Nets, NBA
"In the coming decade, as big-time college sports and the NCAA are increasingly attacked, particularly in the courts, you will often see Professor Andrew Zimbalist as an expert witness. No economist understands intercollegiate athletics better, nor can explain the greed and avarice of its proponents more coherently. Unpaid Professionals is Zimbalist's masterful summing up of the history of college sports, its present predicament, and its uncertain prospects. If every American interested in this subject read this book, real reform would come to big-time college sports."--Murray Sperber, author of Onward to Victory: The Crises That Shaped College Sports
"This is a superbly researched book, as might be expected from someone with Zimbalist's reputation and accomplishments. It contains more information on the history and inside workings of the NCAA than anything I have ever seen in print."--James Quirk, coauthor of Hard Ball and Pay Dirt
"Zimbalist got game! . . . A solid analysis of a segment of American life that Zimbalist claims is in dire need of reform. After reading this book, you'll find it hard to disagree with him. . . . Lots of food for thought here."--John Greenya, The Washington Post Book World
"Complete and authoritative. . . Zimbalist offers a stinging indictment of the system, how it works for some and victimizes others."--Mark Hyman, Business Week
"College sports are all about money, but no one has ever followed that money as closely as Zimbalist does. . . . [A] stunning catalog of excess and exploitation."--Booklist
"Although many of the problems facing college athletics today have been around for decades, the explosion of money and media attention has so raised the stakes that college sports is on the verge of self-destruction, argues Zimbalist (Baseball and Billions), a professor of economics at Smith College. . . . Zimbalist, who knows his way around the locker room and a balance sheet, provides a compelling case for the need to reform college athletics."--Publisher's Weekly
"Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who has written extensively on the business side of sports, assays whether big-time sports are worth the wealth of problems they create for colleges and universities. . . . Zimbalist concludes with a ten point reform program, including such steps as gathering financial support from professional leagues, having a quota of paid non-matriculated athletes, cutting football scholarships nearly in half, shortening seasons, and eliminating freshman eligibility."--John M. Maxymuk, Library Journal
"Zimbalist believes that barring freshmen from competing would be another enormous step forward. To trim costs, he would dramatically cut football scholarships, pointing out that Notre Dame from 1945 to 1950 didn't lose a game and used just 38 players. He would shorten seasons, shorten practice hours, take away shoe contract windfalls from coaches. Zimbalist says he doesn't want to destroy college sports. He simply wants a "responsible analysis" to guide the future of the games and spectacles, reforms "to minimize the negative features but to preserve what people love." As you wait for the next big game--or the next big scandal--read Unpaid Professionals. It could turn you into a more thoughtful, discerning fan."--Jay Weiner, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"Zimbalist forcefully dispels the prevailing beliefs that big-time sports programs necessarily make money for their colleges. . . . The book is readable, solidly researched, and adds great clarity to a muddy debate."--Jon Morgan, The Baltimore Sun
"With Unpaid Professionals, sports economist Zimbalist adds significantly to a growing literature from researchers and practitioners on big-time college athletics. . . . Zimbalist brings the economist's eye for theory and empirical research to now-familiar topics."--Choice
"This book is a good recap of where college sports are now as both an economic and social force on campus with little to do with education. Zimbalist provides at least a discussion point about what can be done to improve the situation."--David Bush, The San Fransisco Chronicle
A college racing stable makes as much sense as college football. The jockey could carry the college colors; the students could cheer; the alumni could bet; and the horse wouldn't have to pass a history test.
—Robert Hutchins, former president of the University of Chicago
According to legend, Haverford College's baseball team had just been clobbered by Villanova in the first game of a doubleheader. Prior to the second game, Haverford's coach gave the team a pep talk which provoked an animated exhortation from one of the Haverford players: "Let's take the field and do what we do best—study!" Not long into the second game, Villanova's shortstop hit a three-run homer, inducing Haverford students in the stands to chant: "That's all right, that's okay, you'll be working for us some day."
ON PAGE ONE of the 1997-98 NCAA Manual the basic purpose of the National Collegiate Athletic Association is written: "to maintain intercollegiate athletics as an integral part of the educational program and the athlete as an integral part of the student body and, by doing so, retain a clear line of demarcation between intercollegiate athletics and professional sports." Some may wonder whom do they think they are kidding.
In December 1996, Notre Dame was playing its final regular season football game against the University of Southern California. The Notre Dame placekicker missed an extra point at the end of the fourth quarter and the gamewent into overtime where Notre Dame lost, 27-21. The loss quashed Notre Dame's bid to go to an Alliance Bowl game, which would have been worth $8 million to the school. The Fighting Irish turned down an invitation to the $800,000 Independence Bowl. The placekicker blew an $8 million extra point!
Notre Dame has a 7-year, $45 million contract with NBC to televise its regular season football games. The major conferences have a $700 million, 7-year contract with ABC to televise the bowl championship series beginning in 1998-99. The NCAA has a $1.725 billion 8-year contract with CBS to broadcast its annual men's basketball tournament.
Like the professional leagues, the NCAA promotes its own line of licensed clothing, as do its leading colleges. Like the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Football League (NFL), the NCAA has its own traveling tent show—NCAA Hoop City. It has its own marketing division. Its corporate sponsorships have increased roughly sevenfold in the nineties, with guaranteed income of $75 million between 1997 and 2002. It has its own real estate subsidiary and even its own Learjet. In 1997, the NCAA cut a deal with the city of Indianapolis to build it a new headquarters and provide an estimated $50 million in subsidies, leaving three hundred employees and forty-five years of tradition behind in Kansas City.
The NCAA's total budget, which surpassed $270 million in 1997-98, has grown at an annual rate of 15 percent since 1982. Its Executive Director, Cedric Dempsey, has done even better than this. His salary and benefits package grew 30.2 percent in fiscal 1997 to $647,000, as part of a new five-year deal. Dempsey replaced Dick Schultz in 1993 when the latter ran into ethical problems. As punishment, the Association gave Schultz a golden parachute worth at least $700,000.
Dempsey also gets treated well when he attends the Final Four of the annual basketball tournament. The Kansas City Star reports that "the manual for cities holding Final Fours requires a series of gifts to be delivered every night to the hotel rooms of NCAA officials. These momentos cost Indianapolis an estimated $25,000 [in March 1997].... At a minimum, gifts for each official included a Samsonite suit bag, a Final Four ticket embedded in Lucite, a Limoges porcelain basketball and Steuben glass." And to maximize revenue at the Final Four, the NCAA has spurned normal basketball-sized venues and instead has chosen cavernous arenas such as the New Orleans Superdome, the San Antonio Alamodome, the St. Louis Trans World Dome, the Indianapolis RCA Dome, and the Georgia Dome, all with seating capacities in excess of forty thousand.
With big bucks dangling before their eyes, many NCAA schools find the temptations of success too alluring to worry about the rules. Schools cheat. They cheat by arranging to help their prospective athletes pass standardized tests. They cheat by providing illegal payments to their recruits. They cheat by setting up special rinky-dink curricula so their athletes can stay qualified. And when one school cheats, others feel compelled to do the same. Then the NCAA passes new rules to curtail the cheating. Sometimes these rules are enforced, sometimes not, but rarely is the penalty harsh enough to be a serious deterrent. The solution, it turns out, is more rules. The NCAA Manual has grown in size from 161 pages in 1970-71 to 579 pages in 1996-97 (and the pages increased in size from 6 x 8 ½ inches prior to 1989 to 8 ½ x 11 inches after). In 1998-99, the Manual became so long that the NCAA broke it into three volumes, with 1,268 pages (some are repeats).
So what is "the clear line of demarcation between intercollegiate athletics and professional sports"? It certainly is not the presence or absence of commercialism and corporate interests. Rather, two differences stand out. First, unlike their handsomely remunerated coaches and athletic directors (ADs), college athletes don't get paid. Second, the NCAA and its member schools, construed to be amateur organizations promoting an educational mission, do not pay taxes on their millions from TV deals, sponsorships, licensing, or Final Four tickets.
The tension between professional and amateur in college sports creates a myriad of contradictions. And, as the NCAA can well attest, contradictions in 1990s America mean litigation.
Consider the legal toll on the NCAA during 1997-98. It settled a long-standing dispute with basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian over due process for a hefty $2.5 million in the coach's favor. It was told by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia that since NCAA schools receive federal funds, the NCAA itself was subject to Title IX (federal gender equity rules). Among other things, this ruling called into question the legality of NCAA regulations about scholarships for athletes. And, potentially most significant, the NCAA was hit with a $67 million court judgment over one of its rules that restricts the earnings of certain coaches. This ruling, if it stands, might be used to challenge a panoply of NCAA restrictions on the operation of markets, including prohibitions on paying athletes, restrictions on how much they can earn outside their sport, and limitations on the number of games played or the number of players on a team. In the end, it may challenge the modus operandi of the Association. As I write in the late summer of 1998, the NCAA faces a new $267 million antitrust suit by Easton Sports over proposed specifications to reduce the pop in aluminum bats and another multimillion suit by Adidas over limitations on logo sizes on uniforms.
In the end, college sports leads a schizophrenic existence, encompassing both amateur and professional elements. The courts, the IRS, and sometimes the universities themselves cannot seem to decide whether to treat intercollegiate athletics as part of the educational process or as a business. The NCAA claims that it manages college sports in a way that promotes both the goals of higher education and the financial condition of the university. Critics say it does neither.
The NCAA wants it both ways. When confronted by the challenges of Title IX and gender equity, the NCAA and its member schools want to be treated as a business. ADs argue that it is justifiable to put more resources into men's than women's sports, because men's sports generate more revenue. But when the IRS knocks on its door, the NCAA and its member schools want their special tax exemptions as part of the nonprofit educational establishment and they claim special amateur status in order to avoid paying their athletes.
Big-time intercollegiate athletics is a unique industry. No other industry in the United States manages not to pay its principal producers a wage or salary. Rather than having many competing firms, big-time college sports is organized as a cartel, like OPEC, through the NCAA. To grasp its modus operandi, it is necessary to consider each of its component parts: its unpaid athletes (discussed in chapter 2), its athletic directors and coaches (treated in chapter 4), its relations to the media (in chapter 5), to the government, to the athletic shoe companies and other businesses (in chapter 6), and, finally, its relation to the NCAA cartel (in chapter 8). Chapter 3 explores how Title IX and gender equity have changed the economic landscape of college sports. Chapter 7 analyzes the budget of big-time athletic programs and its impact on university finances.
Externalities is the word economists use for a phenomenon that arises when a producer or consumer takes an action but does not bear all the costs (negative externality) or receive all the benefits (positive externality) of the action. College sports generates both positive and negative externalities. Among the positive externalities are that they provide a source of entertainment for tens of millions of Americans and of school spirit for college students. Among the negative externalities are that college sports compromise the intellectual standards and educational process at U.S. universities. The challenge is to reform the system in a way that preserves the positives and minimizes the negatives. If the experience with the contradictions and imperfections of college sports over the last hundred years has taught us anything, it is that there are no quick fixes or ideal outcomes. The system, however, can be improved and ideas for such improvement are offered in chapter 9.
Intercollegiate sports in the United States lost its innocence on day one. In 1852, at bucolic Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, the Harvard and Yale boat clubs gathered for a rowing contest. The setting was harmless enough, but already commercial interests were at work. The superintendent of the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad organized the event, luring the Harvard and Yale rowing crews with "lavish prizes" and "unlimited alcohol," in order to attract wealthy passengers up to watch the event. In the 1855 boat race between Harvard and Yale the first known eligibility abuse occurred. The Harvard coxswain was not a student, but an alumnus. Four years later, Brown, Harvard, Yale, and Trinity organized the College Rowing Association. College baseball, track and field, and football followed in the ensuing two decades.
The pervasive and transformative impact of intercollegiate sports was soon to be apparent. President Harry Barnard of Columbia University in the 1870s congratulated the crew team after a victory: "[you have] done more to make Columbia known than all your predecessors ... because little was known about Columbia one month ago, but today wherever the telegraph cable extends, the existence of Columbia College is known and respected."
But football quickly eclipsed crew in popularity. By the late 1880s the traditional rivalry between Princeton and Yale was attracting forty thousand spectators and generating in excess of $25,000 (approximately $420,000 in 1998 dollars) in gate revenues. Woodrow Wilson, President of Princeton University in 1890, told alumni: "Princeton is noted in this wide world for three things: football, baseball, and collegiate instruction." And, President Charles Eliot of Harvard bemoaned: "Colleges are presenting themselves to the public, educated and uneducated alike, as places of mere physical sport and not as educational training institutions."
Media coverage of these sporting contests was seductive and college administrators seemed to be increasingly consumed with their competitive success on the playing field. Already in the 1880s Yale had a $100,000 slush fund to aid football. Teams regularly used graduate students and paid ringers to play. In 1896 Lafayette College enrolled tackle Fielding Yost, a student at West Virginia University, in time to play in the game against the football powerhouse of the University of Pennsylvania, which had won thirty-six consecutive games. With Yost's assistance, Lafayette beat Penn, 6 to 4; then Yost was sent back to West Virginia. A few years later, Yale lured tackle James Hogan by offering him free meals and tuition, a suite in Vanderbilt Hall, a trip to Cuba, a monopoly on the sale of game scorecards, and a job as cigarette agent for the American Tobacco Company.
Football coaches' salaries began to exceed those of the highest paid professors. Horrified faculty members formed committees to attempt to take control over the situation. But powerful interest groups and competitive pressures effectively thwarted burgeoning reform movements. On three different occasions in the 1880s the Harvard Board of Overseers voted to ban football at the school, but each effort was undermined by alumni groups. The Big Ten Conference in 1895 acted to curb what was then considered to be a major abuse and prohibited the use of freshmen and graduate students, but when the Ivy League failed to follow suit the Big Ten lost out competitively and was forced to retract its reform.
W. F. King, the 30-year president of Cornell College in Iowa, observed in May 1893: "The hot competition in these games stimulates certain unfortunate practices, such as the admission of professionals into college as nominal students at the expense of the team, tendencies to betting, the limitation of the benefits of the games to a very few persons, and with these the interest is too intense to be compatible with educational advantages."
The disproportionate drive to victory became tragically manifest in 1893 when seven fatalities were reported in college football. Twelve more deaths occurred in 1894. In 1905, eighteen players were killed in college football games (bringing the 1890-1905 total fatalities to 330), and scores more seriously wounded, largely from use of the flying wedge formation and the absence of protective gear. Columbia, Northwestern, Stanford, and California declared that they would no longer sanction football at their schools.
President Teddy Roosevelt summoned representatives of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale to the White House to discuss the growing violence of college football, (Roosevelt's own son had recently broken his nose in a freshman football game at Harvard.) Carrying a big stick, he threatened to proscribe intercollegiate football unless the game was reformed. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was formed later in 1905 to address this problem.
With a few rule modifications, intercollegiate football was poised for a boom. As attendance at games soared, forty new, large stadiums were built between 1920 and 1940. But more popularity and greater investments only made winning more important. Cheating and financial scandals abounded. A 1929 report issued by the Carnegie Commission concluded that "the heart of the problem facing college sports was commercialization: an interlocking network that included expanded press coverage, public interest, alumni involvement and recruiting abuses. The victim was the student-athlete in particular, the diminishing of educational and intellectual values in general. Also, students (including non-athletes) were the losers because they had been denied their rightful involvement in sports." Three-quarters of the 112 colleges studied by the Carnegie Commission were found to be in violation of NCAA codes and the principles of amateurism. A follow-up survey conducted by the New York Times in 1931 found that not a single college had changed its practices to adhere to the NCAA codes.
Voices of reform grew more outspoken in the thirties. Hollywood movies from the Marx Brothers' Horse Feathers to Saturday's Heroes and Hero for a Day mocked the duplicity of college sports. Robert Hutchins, President of the University of Chicago, wrote in 1931: "College is not a great athletic association and social club, in which provision is made, merely incidentally, for intellectual activity on the part of the physically and socially unfit. College is an association of scholars in which provision is made for the development of traits and powers which must be cultivated, in addition to those which are purely intellectual, if one is to become a well-balanced and useful member of any community." Without meaningful reform in the system, the University of Chicago dropped its football team in 1939. Ironically, what seemed to be a deliberate repudiation of brutality and irrationality was transformed into what many believe to be the quintessence of the same—the stadium locker rooms at the University of Chicago swiftly were converted into secret laboratories for the federally funded Manhattan Project, dedicated to developing the atom bomb.
The Depression affected ticket sales at college football contests in a predictable fashion, but colleges continued to compete against each other in their efforts to recruit top high school players. The scarcity of players led to still more abuses during World War II as well as to the relaxation of player substitution rules and the introduction of two-platoon football. By war's end it seemed to some that transgressions of the amateur code had reached unconscionable proportions. Stanley Woodward, the sports editor for the New York Herald Tribune, wrote in November 1946: "When it comes to chicanery, double-dealing, and undercover work behind the scenes, big-time college football is in a class by itself.... Should the Carnegie Foundation launch an investigation of college football right now, the mild breaches of etiquette uncovered [in the 1920s] ... would assume a remote innocence which would only cause snickers among the post-war pirates of 1946." The payrolls of several college teams reached $100,000 and the coach at Oklahoma State estimated that its rival Oklahoma spent over $200,000 a year on players (approximately $1.8 million in 1998 dollars). The conjuncture of falling revenues and rising costs, along with a sharp rise of gambling on college contests, led the NCAA to grow increasingly concerned about the absence of an effective enforcement mechanism to uphold its principles of amateurism.
While the search for an enforcement mechanism was postponed by World War II, it resumed in July 1946 when the NCAA convened a "Conference of Conferences" in Chicago. This meeting produced a draft of the document "Principles for the Conduct of Intercollegiate Athletics." It became known as the "Sanity Code" because, by threatening to expel violators from the NCAA, it purported to bring order and sanity back to college sports.
Section Four of the document stipulated conditions and limitations on financial aid to athletes. Aid could not be given solely on the basis of athletic prowess, but must also consider a student's need and scholarly accomplishments. Aid was to be limited to tuition and incidental fees. The Sanity Code was officially adopted at the 1948 annual NCAA convention.
Players at the University of Kentucky, among other places, though, had found a way to circumvent this new effort to deprive them of compensation. Five basketball players were convicted of point fixing on their games during 1948-50, a stretch that saw the Kentucky team win two national championships. Ten players on the team also received illegal outside aid, and their famed coach, Adolph Rupp, was condemned for "consorting with bookmaker Ed Kurd."
The New York judge who heard the Kentucky point fixing case did not pull any punches in his opinion. Judge Streit wrote that the University of Kentucky's athletics program was "the acme of commercialism and overemphasis, [including] undeniable evidence of covert subsidization of players, ruthless exploitation of athletes, cribbing on examinations, illegal recruiting, a reckless disregard for the players' physical welfare, matriculation of unqualified students, demoralization [corruption] of the athletes by the coaches, the alumni, and the townspeople."
Economists who have studied the NCAA argue that the Sanity Code marks the beginning of the NCAA behaving as an effective cartel. In this instance, colleges are colluding to set rules that limit the price they have to pay for their inputs (mainly the "student-athletes"), something the colleges could not do if they openly competed with each other for the best athletes. Thus, what appears to some to be a meritorious effort to treat athletes roughly the same as other students with regard to financial aid and to hold back the forces of professionalism and commercialism in college sports, appears to others to be little more than an insidious conspiracy to reduce costs and enlarge profits.
Over time the limitations on financial aid have been somewhat relaxed, allowing aid based on athletic ability alone and expanding the potential aid package to include room and board and books. At the 1997 NCAA Convention, under certain conditions "living expenses" were added to the possible aid package. Even with this relaxation, however, an athlete's financial aid package tops out at around $30,000 in the late-1990s. Given that the leading college basketball teams generate over five million dollars and the leading football teams over twenty million dollars annually in revenues, it seems obvious that the star players on these teams are worth many times more than their financial aid packages. One study, based on data from 1988-89, estimated that the top college football players generated over $500,000 in revenues annually for their schools. The figure today would be at least 50 percent higher. Another study estimates that individual top college basketball players in the early 1990s produced revenues of $870,000 to $1 million each year.
Herein lies a powerful incentive for colleges to cheat. Since schools are not allowed to offer overt cash payments to athletes, schools are obliged to seek more creative or surreptitious forms of remuneration to their student-athletes. Still, payment to the players is constrained, so the schools divert large sums, on the one hand, to compensate more handsomely their top coaches and athletic directors and, on the other, to recruit their student-athletes and to build facilities that appeal to the athletes. While some of the more egregious forms of covert compensation have been curtailed in recent years, the NCAA has never devoted sufficient resources or energy to ameliorate the problem significantly. Rather, it seems that the NCAA has concentrated its meager efforts on levying exemplary punishments on select schools which, some allege, are out of political favor with the Association. Tom McMillen, University of Maryland and NBA star, former U.S. Congressman, and presently co-chair of the President's Council on Physical Fitness, commented during a congressional hearing in July 1991: "The NCAA's response to the crisis has been inadequate: its members have promulgated an ironic system of rules that severely penalize the most minor infraction while ignoring the larger, corrupt practices which are evident in the system."
Even after under-the-table payments from boosters and player agents, the special dormitories and meals, the high-paying summer sinecures, solicitous tutors, tailored gut courses, free clothing, and a myriad of other perquisites, the majority of the top student-athletes are creating considerably more value for their colleges than they are receiving. And this disparity becomes even more glaring when one takes into account that only 54 percent of Division IA football and 41 percent of men's basketball players receive college degrees; among black athletes these proportions fall to 44 percent and 35 percent, respectively.
One reason student-athletes without any academic pretensions accept this state of affairs is that they have little or no alternative. Another is that many student-athletes from high school and college believe that they will make it to the pros. According to a 1990 survey, among blacks this share is alarmingly high and utterly unrealistic: 43 percent of black high school athletes (vs. 16 percent for whites) and 44 percent of black college athletes believe that they will one day become professionals. In fact, only one in several thousand high school athletes makes it to the professional level. Yet when Congress introduced the "Right to Know Act" to require universities to make public the graduation rates of its student-athletes, the NCAA lobbied forcefully against it. While the Act passed Congress over the Association's objection, the incident highlighted for many the troubling fact that intercollegiate sports are self-regulated by the NCAA, whose own structure has been adapted, most recently with "restructuring" in 1997, to promote commercialization. To be sure, the efforts to deceive college athletes often goes well beyond graduation rates. In one remarkable incident, Clemson University, in order to attract black athletes to an overwhelmingly white campus, paid blacks from Columbia, South Carolina, to come to campus on weekends when the black recruits were visiting and pretend that they belonged to a fictitious black fraternity.
Complementing this dubious treatment of the student-athletes, the cultural dominance of intercollegiate sports over campus life raises still more serious questions. University administrators' quest for publicity and media coverage leads them to genuflect at the door of the athletic director's (AD's) office. Resources are lavished on the recruitment of top athletes, not top scholars. Full financial scholarships go to the best athletes, not the best students. During the academic year 1993-94, Duke University awarded $4 million to its 550 student-athletes, and only $400,000 in academic merit grants for its 5,900 other undergraduates. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offered almost $3.2 million to its 690 athletes and only $636,000 in academic merit scholarships to the rest of its 15,000 student body.
Special living conditions, meals, and curricula reinforce a class system within the student body. Underqualified students, some without elementary reading and mathematical skills, are admitted, sometimes by arranging for surrogates to take their SAT exams. The institutional logic evolves to support athletic prominence rather than intellectual inquiry. The President of the University of Oklahoma reflected this poignantly when he went before the state legislature in search of a larger university budget and asserted: "I hope to build a university of which our football team can be proud."
A 1989 Harris poll found that 80 percent of Americans surveyed felt that college sports were out of control. The 1991 Knight Commission report on college athletics concurred, and Creed Black, the President of the Knight Foundation, told the U.S. Congress that university athletic programs were being corrupted by big money and "the rules violations undermined the traditional role of universities as places where the young people learn ethics and integrity." When college basketball players seek to protest the working conditions and wages at a Nike factory in Asia by taping over the Nike label on their sneakers, but their school's endorsement contract with the company obligates the players to remove the tape, then has not the sacred principle of free speech been violated?
Acknowledging that intercollegiate sports have lost all sense of proportion, however, is not to deny them their rightful place in the university. Participation in sports can promote physical and emotional well-being. Physical activity, whatever its form, is a healthy antidote to the sedentary lifestyle of a student. Participation in competitive sports can enhance one's self-image and teach discipline. Team sports can build character, friendships, and community. Spectator sports can provide release and enrich school spirit. Athletes need not be counterposed to students.
This is clear in the case of women participants in school sports. An emerging body of research has found that female participants in school sports are more likely to graduate high school, 92 percent less likely to use drugs, less likely to be depressed or experience low self-esteem, and 55 percent less likely to have an unwanted pregnancy. At the university level, women student-athletes graduate at a 69 percent rate, compared to 59 percent for all women. Eighty percent of women who were identified as key leaders in Fortune 500 companies had a background in sports. Regular exercise has also been shown to reduce significantly the risk of breast cancer, and to lower the incidence of obesity (currently experienced by 25 percent of children and 30 percent of adults in the United States) and of osteoporosis (loss of bone mass).
It is precisely these positive attributes of sports participation along with an abiding ethos of fairness that drive the struggle for gender equity in athletic programs. In 1972, notwithstanding an aggressive NCAA lobbying effort against it, Congress passed Title IX of the Educational Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title IX declared it to be illegal for institutions receiving federal aid to discriminate in any of its activities on the basis of sex. While the initial implementation of Title IX in intercollegiate athletics was delayed and its progress proceeded in fits and starts, by the mid-1990s enormous gains for female student-athletes had been achieved. For instance, the number of women athletes involved in intercollegiate sports increased from 31,852 in 1971-72 to 129,285 in 1996-97. Still, in 1996-97 women represented only 39 percent of all student-athletes and received a smaller (37.3) percentage of all scholarship aid to athletes. Thus, much ground remains to be traveled before gender equality is attained.
It is no longer fashionable for the NCAA, its member schools, or athletic directors to argue against the principles of gender equity. Virtually all proclaim their commitment to the goals of Title IX; the only impediment, they say, is economic. There is simply not enough money to go around. Men's football can have eighty-five full athletic scholarships and men's basketball can have coaches with salaries above $1 million because, they contend, these teams generate sufficient revenue to pay for these expenses. Women must be patient.
The courts and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR), however, seem to be sending a different message: women have waited long enough. Title IX is not conditioned on financial returns, but on the principle of educational equity.
Since the vast majority of college athletic programs operate in the red, finding funds to promote equal athletic opportunity for women is no easy matter. Title IX not only presents a budgetary problem for U.S. colleges, it raises the basic question of the role of athletics in the university.
College presidents see two difficult choices: attempt to develop new revenue sources by further commercializing intercollegiate athletics or move decisively away from big-time athletics. While level-headed thinking might seem to dictate the latter option, cultural momentum and key alumni, boosters, and corporate interests favor the former.
The business of college sports took a dramatic turn in 1984 when the Supreme Court struck down the NCAA's centralized control over the national televising of college football. This decision ended the NCAA's monopoly and resulted in more games being televised. So far, so good (suspending critical judgment about its cultural impact). The other outcome of the high court's ruling was that strong football schools and conferences began to earn television revenue for themselves instead of sharing it with all NCAA colleges. The rich programs eventually got richer, and the middle and poor programs got poorer. This growing inequality has been enhanced in the 1990s by increased corporate penetration of the top programs, the formation of the Bowl Championship Series (né Bowl Super Alliance), and the NCAA's "restructuring" which allows for Division I colleges to run their own show as well as for control to be vested in the Division's most powerful conferences.
Thus, many of the sixty-odd top schools in the Big Ten, the Pac-10, the Big East, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 12, and the Southeastern Conference are being bathed in cash, while the 40 Division IA schools in other conferences, the 198 schools in Divisions IAA and IAAA, the 267 schools in Division II, and the 387 schools in Division III are drowning in red ink. Save the handful of colleges with excellent academic reputations, college public relations, admissions, and development departments behave as if successful athletic teams are the sine qua non of financial health and more qualified student bodies. The logic is that athletic triumphs bring notoriety which, on the one hand, entice more student applications, thereby allowing for greater selectivity in admissions, and, on the other, stimulate alumnae and local boosters to open their wallets for the school's endowment. The evidence, as we shall see, is otherwise.
The struggle for gender equity has put the traditional conflict of college sports between professionalism and amateurism into sharp relief. At once, the NCAA must deal, inter alia, with growing legal challenges to its rules and regulations, the rigidifying class structure among its member schools, the push for sexual parity, the unpaid professional athletes who are jumping early to the pro leagues, and the glut of sports programming on television. Intercollegiate athletics is at a crossroads. This book is about how it got there and about the difficult choices that lie ahead.
Posted August 17, 2013
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