Yet Another Problem With NCAA Athletics

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Kazzy

One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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  1. Avatar BlaiseP
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    says:

    It’s a cruel irony that colleges and universities market themselves on how distinctly wonderful their cultures are, only to have the veneer peel up on their schtick. Lest we forget, Tyler Clementi also went to Rutgers.

    College sports has become something of a contradiction in terms. “Sportsmanlike” behaviour of this sort reflects the deep rot at the core of these institutions.Report

  2. Avatar Will Truman
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    says:

    Speak out against an abusive coach? Stand up for yourself? You’re off the team… and out of school.

    Of course, no NCAA, no scholarship to loose…Report

  3. Avatar Michael Cain
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    says:

    Well, there’s the big-money sports, and then there’s the rest. For unknown reasons, ESPNU did a 90-minute show on the NCAA fencing championships last night. Real student-athletes, none receiving more than a partial scholarship, laboring in an arena full of empty seats. The NCAA and these universities and colleges do the sport a real service, providing skilled fencers with an opportunity to train under good coaches and compete against one another on a scale that wouldn’t be possible without the program. Fencing is the only sport that, to my knowledge, combines the men’s and women’s team results in deciding the NCAA national champion school.

    Just for the record, speaking as a fencer, the show was a piece of crap. Much more about the fencers than about fencing (lots of sibling stories). Really terrible in comparison to the streaming coverage of last year’s Olympics, which showed every minute of every bout, with camera angles that worked, and a director who actually knew something about the sport.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      It’s a point of annoyance that people associate the NCAA so primarily with a small portion of the schools involved playing only a few of the many sports that the NCAA sponsors.

      The NCAA really isn’t Michigan football.Report

      • Avatar Karl in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Agreed that the focus of the “NCAA is evil” argument is absurdly myopic. The overwhelming majority of college athletes are 1) not on scholarship and 2) costing their schools money as their sports directly generate no revenue. As a former Olympic sports athlete in college (rowing), I was just grateful for an opportunity to continue playing, let alone getting the access to the types of facilities, staff and events that college athletics provides.

        That said, there are definitely problems with the current rules around football and men’s basketball that uniquely burden them with paying for the entire athletic department (including the women’s teams, which I know will be an unpopular opinion around here). So let’s really focus on those two sports (and really even more narrowly on Div-1 football and basketball) where the issues lie and not try and paint with such a wide brush. Clearly, I have some bias here, but I feel its important to push back against the pitchfork and torch crowd who’d unintentionally end up harm way more athletes than they’d help.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        I need to find a way to persuade The Wife (a former college athlete in one of those “other” sports at one of those “other” schools) to do a guest post on this.

        It does, however, seem worth pointing out that the NCAA’s revenue, and the revenue of the individual conferences,* is driven almost entirely by football (in the case of some conferences) and basketball (in the case of the NCAA and many conferences), which wind up subsidizing the NCAA’s (and individual conferences’) ability to operate less popular sports. See here, for example: http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/ncaa/finances/revenue

        Given the backgrounds of many football and basketball players compared to the backgrounds of kids in other sports, one who is particularly cynical might point out (correctly) that the NCAA and some conferences essentially make boatloads of money off of kids from frequently lower income families, virtually none of which gets returned to those kids, which money is used so that kids from middle and upper class families can put on national (as opposed to merely regional) tournaments and get free access to top-flight coaches in other sports.

        *I am referring here only to the NCAA’s revenue and expenses and/or to the revenue and expenses of the conferences, not to the athletic department revenue and expenses of member schools, which typically run at a loss.Report

        • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to Mark Thompson
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          says:

          the NCAA and some conferences essentially make boatloads of money off of kids from frequently lower income families, virtually none of which gets returned to those kids, which money is used so that kids from middle and upper class families can put on national (as opposed to merely regional) tournaments and get free access to top-flight coaches in other sports.

          Of course, that’s not exploitive, because it happens via agreements entered into freely.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mark Thompson
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          says:

          Never thought of it this way. Damn, man. That shit’s fucked uo.

          I need to be more cynical.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Mark Thompson
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          says:

          Just to avoid any confusion, I should mention that my rant above is my own conclusion, not a conclusion that stems from anything The Wife might say.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mark Thompson
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          says:

          I’d counter with a few things:

          1) For every scholarship player in an athletic department that doesn’t need institutional support (ie isn’t losing money), there are at least two or three (maybe four) that are in athletic programs that are losing money.

          1b) Even if you look at *football* revenues versus losses, you’re still looking at something more than 1:1. There’s a reason so many schools don’t sponsor the sport. It usually doesn’t pay for itself, unless you’re in one of five conferences.

          2) The biggest transfer of money isn’t between social class, it’s between gender.

          3) All of this overlooks the extent to which the value is actually conferred by the instititions rather than the individual players. Take the college football players and put them in a minor league system and it’s losing money. Replace the players with scabs and Alabama residents will still root hardily for their Crimson Tide. There are some exceptions to this (Boise State, for example), but it’s the general rule.Report

          • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Will Truman
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            says:

            Will – I think your objections would hold water if I was talking about the revenue and expense streams of school athletic departments, but I’m explicitly limiting this to the NCAA’s revenue and expense stream (and, to a lesser extent, that of the conferences).

            This is important because the NCAA is the entity that makes the rules and runs the competitions for the majority of academic institutions, to the point that it effectively has a monopoly on collegiate athletics. But there’s no reason that athletics should have to be conducted through the NCAA, nor that the NCAA should be the primary rulemaking body.

            Absent the NCAA (or a functionally equivalent monopoly), collegiate athletics would not cease to exist, even in the smaller sports; they’d just be less uniform.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mark Thompson
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              says:

              Sorry, I missed that explicit limitation. My bad.

              The NCAA may be an effective monopoly (forgetting the NAIA for a moment), but it’s not really a powerful one. It exists at the leisure of 70 or so athletic programs. (Which you touch on with the parenthetical – I didn’t miss that.) The power resides in those athletics programs, though, and so I guess that’s where I am more inclined to focus.

              It’s not clear to me that those athletics programs (and the NCAA which exists at their leisure) are acting unethically. What they don’t provide in money to the athletes, they provide in exposure. If the NAIA did start paying their athletes, the athletes would still (I think) have more to gain from the institutional brandnames (the University of Alabama, USC, etc.) than playing for Dickinson State for $40k a year plus tuition and expenses.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                The NCAA may be an effective monopoly (forgetting the NAIA for a moment), but it’s not really a powerful one. It exists at the leisure of 70 or so athletic programs.

                First, I don’t think we can say that the existence of the NAIA undermines NCAA’s status as a de facto monopoly – the NAIA is such an insignificant entity compared to the NCAA that it may as well not exist for purposes of determining the NCAA’s status as a monopoly; instead, its existence only really shows that the death of the NCAA would not mean the death of collegiate sports, which was what I was trying to get at.

                Second, that it exists at the leisure of the big-conference schools just makes it more like a cartel than a monopoly. The schools in that cartel have – in effect – basically gotten together and devised a set of rules that ensure collegiate athletes in revenue generating sports will have absolutely no negotiating power. They get the same compensation as someone in a non-revenue sport or at a smaller school – an opportunity to obtain a degree without paying any cash….except there’s a difference – in the money-making programs, your chances of actually getting that degree are dramatically less. Some of that is obviously that schools tend to admit lower quality students in the high-revenue sports and programs than in the non-revenue programs; but some of it is also surely that athletes in the high-revenue programs are expected to spend significantly more time on their sport than athletes in the smaller programs. In fact, so far as I can tell, NFL players spend about as much time in practice as the NCAA officially (wink wink, nudge nudge) allows college football teams to practice on a weekly basis, and the NCAA has enough loopholes in its practice rules that its players actually spend more time in practice than NFL players.

                It’s not clear to me that those athletics programs (and the NCAA which exists at their leisure) are acting unethically. What they don’t provide in money to the athletes, they provide in exposure. If the NAIA did start paying their athletes, the athletes would still (I think) have more to gain from the institutional brandnames (the University of Alabama, USC, etc.) than playing for Dickinson State for $40k a year plus tuition and expenses.

                I’m less interested in the ethics involved than I am in the effects, and in what causes those effects, which is that the NCAA’s near-monopoly status ensures that athletes in revenue generating sports will have no negotiating power. As for the value of the institutional brandnames, I’m just not terribly impressed.

                Keep in mind that even in the revenue generating sports, the percentage of athletes who go on to make a significant amount of money in the pros is incredibly small and, as demonstrated by the number of kids who were going straight from high school to the pros in basketball before the One-and-Done Rule, a good chunk of those kids would have done just as well (if not better in some cases) without the NCAA’s exposures. For those majority of kids in revenue-generating sports who don’t go pro (or wind up making $30,000 a year in a low-tier league), or, more strikingly, the handful of kids who would go pro but get injured in college before they have a chance, that brand doesn’t do a heck of a lot, and certainly doesn’t do anything more than it does for the average student.

                Last but not least, let’s not forget that the institutional brandnames themselves are built up and maintained by these very athletes in revenue generating sports, and in most instances, the athletes that don’t go on to make boatloads of cash in the pros are just as much a part of creating those brand names as the superstars. Replace the nameless grunts on a major college football team with the best players from a DII or DIII program, but keep the superstars, and that major college football team suddenly looks pretty mediocre. Do that for enough years in a row, and suddenly that brand name isn’t what it used to be.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mark Thompson
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                says:

                FWIW, I think the “cartel” critique is more sound than the monopoly one.

                If you replace the players on USC with the players from Mount Vernon State and yeah, it won’t take for USC to lose its luster. That’s because UCLA is still getting UCLA talent, though. It’s all comparative. Which is why the cartel is, to some extent, necessary for the system to function.

                Where the cartel argument breaks down for me is that it’s the very system that provides what it does for the student athletes. The student athletes need it. They can’t go form an independent league and have it be competitive. The system doesn’t need the players, though. Contrast this with the NFL. When the NFL tried scabs, it failed. Because in the NFL, the system requires having the best players. If they stopped paying the players what they wanted, the players could start a new USFL and it would eclipse the NFL very quickly.

                Now, in my mind, the cartel doesn’t actually primarily benefit the superstar programs. Back before the scholarship limits, it was the other programs that suffered. Oklahoma could give scholarships to 200 players and soak up all the talent. Now they can’t, by mutual agreement, and the beneficiaries are schools like Tulsa.

                The SEC has nothing to fear from paying players. Nor do any of the major conferences. They can afford it. If we’re talking about results, what I see as the end-result is the collapse of everybody else. Arkansas State would no longer be able to even try to compete (unless, of course, we mandate how payers are played, in which case we’re back to cartel-land). There’d be little reason for the rest of NCAA football (which comprises of the majority, by not-a-little) to bother with the scholarships. Arkansas State offers 85 scholarships because that’s the cost-of-admission to FBS football. Central Arkansas offers 65 because that’s the cost of being in Division I. Arkansas Tech offers 35 because that’s Division II. Take away the carrot of competition, it all starts looking a lot more like Division II and Division III. Fewer scholarships.

                I see that as a win for the cream of the athletic crop, because they’re getting paid large sums of money. But in the overall, it would hurt far more athletes than it would help. Maybe this is all good and right and just because those athletes just aren’t as good. But that brings me back to my view that the top-tier athletes are – collectively – having more value conferred onto them than are they – collectively – conferring value onto the institutions to which they are a part.

                I do recognize the existence of a problem. Unlike baseball and increasingly basketball, there is nowhere for a good football player to go in order to make a living. I don’t see the NCAA (or its constituent schools) as the problem here. I don’t see an obligation on their part to pay the athletes. I see a problem with the NFL free-riding off college athletics. And I see a bunch of players who, on their own, collectively, wouldn’t actually be able to produce a product that people wouldn’t want to see if they didn’t have 100,000 alumni with an allegiance to the school.

                There are some reforms I would like to see. I’d like to see multi-year scholarships. I’d like to see the whole costs taken care of. Mostly, I like the idea that someone put out there (that somebody – hockey? – already does) where the professional teams pay the players they want dibs on a salary. I think these systems would be more fair. I also don’t think it would hurt the college sports system very much. But as good an idea as I think these things are, I don’t think there is any obligation on the part of the NCAA to perform them.

                Regarding the NAIA, I agree that they don’t represent significant competition to the NCAA. To me, it does go to show, though, that the NCAA isn’t really the problem. Nothing is different in the other league, really. And even if the NAIA did do things differently, such as paying the players, it would still lack value because even if its teams are better than those in the NCAA, it doesn’t have the institutions.

                They get the same compensation as someone in a non-revenue sport or at a smaller school – an opportunity to obtain a degree without paying any cash….except there’s a difference – in the money-making programs, your chances of actually getting that degree are dramatically less.

                Yes and no. The scholarship packages for the lesser sports aren’t as good. More partial scholarships and more walk-ons. Now, at the smaller schools, that is true, though the differences in what is expected of them are less great in an apples-to-apples comparison within a sport (a lot is expected of Florida International football players). So I’d say they’re doing their time as well.

                That most players are not going to go on to a professional career only supports my view, as far as I’m concerned. The vast majority of these players, I’m not sure how we could look at them and say “They deserve to be paid!” They tend to be the players that are not good enough to get paid. Almost definitionally, I think. What they do get is to make it at least part-way to their degree at no cost to them. If they choose to stick around and get loans for the balance… they have one year or three of doing what the rest of us have to do anyway. It too me 4.5 years to get my degree. If it had taken 6.5, but the first four years had been paid for, I’d consider that a win.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                Does it really cost schools money to offer a scholarship? I can’t imagine the actual cost being more than a pittance; I doubt athletes are accepted into spots that would go to full pay students. They just accept both and take a loss on what the athletes eat.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                That’s going to vary from school to school. Schools that have a fixed number of slots would very likely fill those slots if not for athletes. Other schools, maybe or maybe not. Either way, they’re providing something worth $x of dollars. And it’s $x that they’re not profiting from to give to shareholders. The costs of college education is pretty substantial.

                I do know that scholarship costs do pose a disincentive for schools wishing to make the jump from one division to another.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                Wait… Hockey players are paid by NHL teams? How… Convenient… For a crew of largely white, largely upper class athletes.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                Somewhere, somehow it’s done, but I don’t think for NCAA hockey players. Maybe Nob (or whoever it was that mentioned it) can clarify. Some football athletes are paid by professional baseball teams, too. Though they can’t play NCAA baseball. I’m not sure how it works.

                In any event, the lack of a salary for college athletes pre-dates integration. I’m not sure how easy it is to look at the situation and say “If they were white…”Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                D1 hockey players aren’t paid. Their model works the same as baseball. D1 is one avenue into the pros but there is still a strong minor league system.

                As a former D3 hockey player, we were all over the moon that we got $5 meal money for away games. That was fantastic to us.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                What they do get is to make it at least part-way to their degree at no cost to them.

                I’m uncertain at the “no cost” part. Especially when we’re talking physically punishing sports.

                For example, even if Demarcus Ware gets a fully paid scholarship as a result of public pressure, I’m not sure that that was a “no cost” education.Report

        • Avatar superdestroyer in reply to Mark Thompson
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          says:

          The NCAA, as an organization does not make any money from football. Some of the BCS schools do make a large amount of money from football but every few schools have an athletic program that makes enough money to be able to function without subsidies from the rest of the university.

          The NCAA does not money from the NCAA men’s tournament but much of that money is return to the schools and pays the expenses of the school participating. Unlike football, schools do not lose money to participate in the post season.

          If you want to pay football players at Michigan or Florida, are you going to charge them at the schools that lose money on football like Northern Illinois, Central Florida, Hawaii, or UTEP?Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to superdestroyer
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            says:

            NCAA makes a great deal of money, most of it from television revenues, at this point, from Turner/CBS, something like 700 million USD. Its total revenue is something like 871.6 million USD.

            There is a difference between a non-profit and a not-for-profit. NCAA has been able to hide as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation for quite some time, saying its disbursements benefit education, though it clearly does nothing of the sort. It is in fact a not-for-profit, conducting business as would any other composite corporation with its divisions. Consider that NCAA-sanctioned college sports programs are separately incorporated, playing the same little shell game, paying the educational institutions a fraction of the take.Report

            • Avatar superdestroyer in reply to BlaiseP
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              Most of the money paid to the NCAA for their television contract is returned to the schools. http://winthropintelligence.com/2013/04/01/ncaa-mens-basketball-tournament-this-years-unit-payouts-after/

              If the NCAA did not exist, then most schools would drop their athletic programs. There would probably be about 60 football programs (most of the current BCS members) and everyone else would drop out. Few schools make enough money to treat their athletes like employees and comply with Title IX.

              Do you really want college athletics to be limit to a few dozen schools that have big time football programs and where athletes all try to go to the winning schools so that they can make more money?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to superdestroyer
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                says:

                How does this change anything? Do you understand the accounting mechanics of a holding company? NCAA doesn’t deal with universities. There’s nothing educational about this process. These college sports programs are separate incorporations and NCAA pays out according to its own points system.Report

    • Avatar Fnord in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      Speaking as someone who fenced as a club sport in college, we managed. And I will note that we frequently fenced in invitational tournaments against varsity teams who had professional coaches (to yell at them when they lost to some club team nerd). It’s not like the pseudo-professional model is the only way to organize college athletics.Report

  4. Avatar Damon
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    says:

    All this goes to the point that “college athletics” are, for the popular sports, nothing but farm teams for the pros. They ought to be abandoned or made legit farm teams.

    I’ve had some personal experience with insane NCAA rules and they, and the “sports programs” at colleges are nothing but businesses. That fact that they, in effect, make indentured servants of the athletes while raking in all the money, is disgusting.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Damon
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      says:

      Except that if they were a business, most college athletics programs would be in Chapter [somethingbankrupcyrelated].Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Which makes the fact that many universities are essentially subsidizing a professional clubs that much more irredeemably ridiculous.

        One can make arguments that maybe scholarships and facilities might make up for the lack of direct compensation (this has always seemed dubious to me) but it’s nigh impossible to make the case that the lack of significant minor leagues for both football and basketball aren’t at least attributable to 1. their monopoly/cartel status combined with 2. their exploitation of college labor using ridiculous labor prohibitions like NBA’s draft rules.

        I think on some level it’d be the responsibility of the sports leagues to at least help finance some of the scholarships, and even allowing athletes compensation.

        Given that right now we have really stupid things like One and Done, plus the conditionality of scholarships allowing abuses of power and vastly out of proportion compensation for athletic staff over anyone else (including say, Nobel Laureates) there needs to be something changed here.Report

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