Problem with College Athletics

In my last post I talked about for-profit schools, but failed to mention Division I athletics in this conversation. Although these obviously aren’t technically for-profit, I would argue that the structure of these programs seems to go against the non-profit nature of the schools. The reason I say this is that these programs themselves seem to be almost treated as for-profit entities by the school where they are attempting to maximize the profits made by athletic programs every year. Money drives many of the decisions made by colleges and major athletic conferences to the point where things like television networks are influencing the way these schools run their sports teams. This article discusses some of the ways college sports are being influenced by the deals with television networks.

These programs have been so beneficial in so many ways to universities in terms of money and prestige that universities have found it worthwhile to pay coaches in the same realm as CEOs for some companies. Right now in 40 of the 50 states, the highest paid public employee is a head coach of a college program. In this offseason, Jim Harbaugh signed a deal that will be paying him about $5.7 million per year in a program that was atrocious last year. The reason the university is willing to pay this kind of money to for coach, is the coach has the ability to turn the program back into a money generating aspect of the university. The success of these programs are so dependent on the players at the school, and coaches like Harbaugh have the reputation and prestige behind him that will allow the recruitment of better and better players. I think this process becomes very seedy when you consider the fact that most coaches have significant incentives for better performance during their tenure. Harbaugh for example will receive and additional $125,000 for each Big Ten Championship game that he wins, and an additional $500,000 if he wins a National Championship. These types of bonuses really appear to generate some incentives that do not align with a non-profit organization.

Coaches have the incentive to perform at higher and higher levels, but can only do this if they continue to improve the quality of their recruiting and their players. Coaches then are placed in a situation where they want to improve the quality of the program, not for the benefit of the students and athletes, but for personal reasons, and they will be doing this through the exploitation of unpaid, and unrepresented labor (athletes). If decisions are being made about how to treat the athletes based on monetary incentives rather than the incentives a true non-profit would create, something is going wrong. College athletics either need to truly embrace the non-profit categorization of their organizations and stop profiting off of the players, or they need to scrap the old system and adopt a true for-profit structure for athletics. Right now for only the coaches to be receiving the benefits from the players’ accomplishments is ridiculous to me. Thinking of the bonuses that have been received by the coaches in the NCAA bball tournament while the players just get t-shirts does not seem right to me.The amount of money that is flowing into the NCAA right now gives cause for them to change their structure of operation, and to seriously consider paying their players.

3 Replies to “Problem with College Athletics”

  1. This problem seems most poignant in Division I athletics in major sports like football and men’s basketball, correct? Those seem to be the sports and universities where athletic programs could be used to generate profit for the institution.

  2. A different question would be.. will paying the players really improve the situation? What would be gained by this? I’m not suggesting that the players don’t deserve payment but what would a “pro” DI athletics program look like?

  3. Andrew, correct, those were the programs I was discussing, the ones that generate so much money for their schools. The issue with this discussion is whether only those athletes should be paid? Or if you pay one sport do you have to pay the other sports?

    Garrett, that is an interesting question. I’m not sure if it would really improve the sport, but it would redirect some of the money into the hands of those who are really generating it. I also think if it were set up correctly, it would give athletes more reason to stay all four years and earn a degree. This would be some type of system where athletes would receive a stipend if they stay all four years. This wouldn’t be of any benefit for the one and done athletes but it would help those who aren’t going to make a living in that sport in the future.

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