CHICAGO, March 22, 2014 — The NCAA is currently facing several actions by present and former athletes that will change the foundation of college sports. Maybe more than anyone realizes.
Two lawsuits, O’Bannon v. NCAA and Alston v. NCAA, charge the athletic association with violating anti-trust laws. Additionally, a football player at NorthwesternUniversity is petitioning the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to grant players status as employees of the university, allowing them to unionize.
The comments sections of articles about the actions against the NCAA reveal a growing push for the separation of church and state, in this case the religion of college football and the state of higher-education costs.
There is a growing outcry for the NFL and the NBA to stop using colleges and universities as farm teams and establish their own minor leagues.
But why should they? They already have a system they don’t have to pay for that preps and primps players into future stars, and it’s not like the leagues have so much money floating around that they pay their own coaches, directors and players millions of dollars.
Oh, wait a minute. They do, don’t they. Well, one cannot expect high-earning athletes to give up money so the league can train their replacements, or the management to take a pay cut to improve the future of their league when colleges are doing the training for them.
Let’s look at some of those salaries: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, $44.2 million (tax-exempt). Green Bay Quarterback Aaron Rogers, $10.8 million. Alabama football coach Nick Saban, $5 million. Vanderbilt Athletic Director David Williams, $3.2 million.
The highest-ranked college athlete in all of NCAA sports: $0.
That’s $0 in salary. There are other perks, like scholarships that don’t cover full expenses. It is easy to see why the players are upset.
It is not right that everyone surrounding a star athlete is making so much money when the person with the skill and talent makes nothing.
But it is also not right that so much time, attention and funding is directed toward athletics at institutions where the focus is supposed to be on education.
If we step back from the altar of idol-worship and its mystic “Pay the Players” mantra, we can see that we may be addressing the wrong side of the equation. Rather than giving the players a cut of what they earn for their institutions, why not cut back everyone else? Why not say that no college coach can make more than the highest-paid professor at his university?
The university that pays Nick Saban $5 million pays its full-tenured professors $97,800 on average.
Why not place caps on head-office executive salaries, make the NFL and NBA create their own minor leagues, and let the universities focus on education.
Before anyone squawks about how important high-quality sports teams are to their schools, the money they bring that benefits the whole school, etc., let’s take a look at some of the top schools in the country.
According to the Academic Ranking of World Universities (2013), ten of the top 12 universities in the world are in the U.S. Of the top 12, eight do not offer athletic scholarships and a ninth, Cambridge in the U.K., limits their scholarships to less than £3500, or $6,000.
Of the top 12 universities in the world, only four offer athletic scholarships.
Harvard, MIT, CalTech, Princeton, Columbia, University of Chicago, and Yale have all made very good names for themselves without the “benefits” of offering sports scholarships. So has Oxford, although they’re still not quite clear on what “football” actually is.
Northwestern has a strong reputation in both academics and athletics. They also have an athletic department that loses money every year and mounting legal bills and hassles as their football players try to unionize.
Perhaps the fallout from all of these lawsuits and petitions will be more schools following the path of University of Chicago and switching from D1 to D3 status in the NCAA. D3 schools are forbidden from offering athletic scholarships. Or perhaps they’ll follow the Ivy schools’ example and retain their D1 status while refusing to offer athletic scholarships.
Maybe more schools will follow the example of rising academic star NortheasternUniversity and drop football altogether. No mess, no fuss.
Universities across the country are following the events closely, and they are weighing all of their options. They have plenty of time. It will be years before the dust begins to settle.
When it does, the face and function of college athletics may be very different.
With any luck, the face and function of colleges will return to academics.