Exploiting naivety: The fallacy of the NCAA and college athletics
The Rieger Report
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Sunday, March 3, 2013 14:03
During a luncheon sponsored by Oklahoma State University last week, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Division I athletics do not, “…come at a cost to the rest of the institution.” Bowlsby then went further, stating how almost all Division I sports are self-supporting and how major sports are achieving their best graduation rates in history.
The NCAA and intercollegiate athletics though, have become obsolete.
This is not due to the recent University of Miami investigation debacle. Nor is it due to the disconnect between the revenue of major athletic programs and the nonprofit mission of higher education, which Wake Forest University sociologist Earl Smith dubbed the “athletic industrial complex.”
Rather, the NCAA cannot govern its members, and numerous convoluted metrics mixed with archaic rules further complicate the system.
The economics have become completely unsustainable for the overwhelming majority of Division I schools, due in large part to the growth of college football, but the ultimate cost falls on student-athletes.
The NCAA’s original mission was for student-athletes to compete in amateur athletic events, consistent with the mission of higher education. The goal was to earn a degree.
However, this student-athlete dynamic no longer exists in big-time intercollegiate athletics, and the metrics used by the NCAA to measure a student-athlete’s academic progress do not work. Major Division I sports are simply a stop for athletes hoping to make it professionally, or at least that is what they are told.
The problem though, is very few succeed.
As documented by Richard M. Southall, the director of the College Sport Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, less than 2 percent of men’s basketball and football athletes make it professionally.
Southall also noted in the Fall 2012 edition of the Phi Kappa Phi Forum how, “according to one investigation, Division I [Football Bowl Subdivision] athletes are up to 10 times more likely to benefit from ‘special admissions’ programs than other students,” meaning the students could not meet the normal entrance requirements.
The divide between higher education and intercollegiate athletics is not because of the NCAA though, but rather because of complacent university presidents who control the system.
The NCAA is obsolete, but not broken. Administrators should not rebuild the intercollegiate athletic model, but rather reform it.
On paper, the NCAA has the proper makeup, but in practice it does not work. This is not because of the need for separate organizations governing different sports, as Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski has proposed, but rather because of a lack of regulations governing the underlying incentives.
Universities and media companies jumped on the opportunity to bring in millions of dollars in revenue each year after the NCAA allowed conference commissioners and the Bowl Championship Series to control college football. This began the domino effect leading to the current state of intercollegiate athletics: absurd conference realignment, ridiculous media agreements and a record number of underclassmen leaving early for the NFL draft last year. And the new football playoff system will only create more disparity.
Higher education and intercollegiate athletics are playing by completely different rules, but claim to be part of the same institution.
The problem with intercollegiate athletics is that higher education administrators, who govern the conferences and the NCAA, have essentially created a loophole in the system: nonprofit universities with the potential to bring in millions through athletic programs, while creating inaccurate student-athlete academic metrics. Meanwhile, the student-athlete is left vulnerable to revenue-hungry universities.
We know what universities value in student-athletes; the question though, is whether the NCAA will redefine the student-athlete.