College Athletics: Business or Experience

The National Collegiate Athletics Association’s existence, according to its website, is predicated on “integrating intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.” Of course, this mission can manifest itself in many ways, the most common taking place at the Division I level, where students are offered scholarships to play sports while also being enrolled in academics. With the NCAA’s exponentially increasing popularity and profitability, it has become apparent that Division I schools are continually defying the NCAA’s mission statement.
Recently, collegiate sporting events like March Madness and the College Football Playoffs have garnered the attention of millions of Americans cheering on their alma mater or favorite athletes, and generated millions of dollars in revenue. According to an audited financial statement by USA Today, the NCAA earned around $989 million dollars in revenue in 2014. While the NCAA spent around $905 million of that revenue on expenses largely aimed at scholarships and expansionary projects, they still netted around $80.5 million in profit. For the individual schools, this profit margin is smaller but still notable. According to the Department of Education’s report from the 2011-2012 academic year, the University of Alabama, Ohio State University, and the University of Oregon made $45 million, $24 million, and $31 million respectively, largely in merchandise sales and television broadcasting rights.
With the opportunity to earn millions of dollars in revenue each year, it should not be surprising to learn that there have been a plethora of scandals relating to athletic programs trying to persuade top recruits to join their program, mostly through monetary incentives, an action that can sometimes be illegal under the NCAA’s strict recruitment rules. For example, Ed Martin, the University of Michigan’s Men’s Basketball team booster in the 90’s, was called before a federal grand jury for giving recruiting prospects such as Chris Webber over $600,000 to play basketball at Michigan. One of the most recent college athletic scandals, including Rick Pitino and the Louisville Men’s Basketball team, revolved around the same concept of enticing recruits, but not through monetary means. In 2015, Katrina Powell, accused Rick Pitino and the Louisville Men’s Basketball program of ordering thousands of dollars worth of sex workers for players and recruits. These allegations rightfully led to national outrage and the concurrent self-termination of the team’s opportunity to play in the postseason.
With these repeated violations of NCAA sanctioned rules, it doesn’t take much to realize that somewhere along the way, something went awry: college athletes and programs are too focused on profit margins and will do anything to try and get the top recruit to boost their rankings and sales. It isn’t outrageous to claim that although the NCAA hasn’t directly promoted any of this deviation, it has indirectly caused players and coaches to disregard the mission statement that it has set forth. Players are now more likely to attend a school for the incentives they are promised rather than the athletic and academic opportunities that the institution has to offer.
Because there has been so much controversy surrounding the “pay for play” mentality many athletic programs have secretly embodied, many are advocating a system in which college athletes are compensated for their athletic endeavors. Proponents of this system argue this case in two ways. The first is by saying that student athletes spend incredible amounts of time on something that is generating revenue for the university; therefore, logically, some form of compensation should follow. Second, they believe that the practice of persuading recruits through illegal methods will dwindle, or stop completely if recruits know that they will be paid either way. The idea of providing some form of monetary compensation for college athletes was only further placed in the spotlight after Shabaz Napier, point guard on the 2014 University of Connecticut Men’s Basketball championship team, was interviewed two days after the team’s win, claiming that he were nights that him and his teammates went to bed hungry.
“There’s hungry nights and I’m not able to eat, and I still got to play up to my capabilities … When you see your jersey getting sold, it may not have your last name on it , but when you see your jersey getting sold and things like that, you feel like you want something in return.”
While the NCAA has undoubtedly changed the lives of many young scholar-athletes around the world, it’s apparent that many of these same athletes feel as if there’s room for improvement.

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