College Athletics: The Toy Department of Higher Education


With Napier of UConn ‘going to bed hungry,’ the Northwestern football team attempting to unionize and the O’Bannon case preparing for trail, the NCAA’s hair is on fire. In a meager attempt to thwart the audacity of these complainers, the bully of collegiate athletics is now considering unlimited meal allowance. BFD! Like most other SROs (Self Regulatory Organizations), the NCAA has overreached its purview and has morphed into a financial/political machine that wields a very heavy hand. Their attitude is, “comply or we’ll exact a heavy toll” and members tremble at the thought of an investigation. Athletic administrators work diligently to insure compliance in all aspects of their programs, but the issue of financial aid (legal and illegal) is of primary concern in football and men’s basketball where the opportunities to play professionally after college loom very large. With the money so seductive, it draws unsavory characters to the dance and they are more than willing to engage in nefarious activity negatively impacting athletes and their respective institutions. That wise So. Philly street philosopher, Dominick Marino, once said, “ya’ know Albie, money makes good people betta and bad people woiser.”

One might ask how did this organization go from a hero to villain? After all, it was the NCAA who wrested college sports from the clutches of the AAU. They were the controlling agency of all amateur sports in the late fifties and early sixties and operated with impunity until the coaches and athletes said, “enough.” It wasn’t about money as much as eligibility for collegiate athletes. Sanctions were out of hand and something had to be done. Ta Da… the NCAA was the white knight who became the governing body of major college sports and all was good again in gyms, pools, tracks, courts, and fields. So, what happened? MONEY! Network television was the game changer in the seventies, then cable in the eighties, then new media began to emerge in the nineties and this mega industrial entertainment complex was born and thrives in a multi billion dollar business. Everyone who participates gets fat except the participants…that is the athletes. So, pay ‘em! Let the NCAA along with university presidents, faculty athletic representatives and athletic directors work through the details. I have long been an advocate of paying collegiate athletes dating back to the sixties where many were being paid illegally. My support is grounded in the notion of a market economy. If you can generate it, then you shall have your slice of the pie. It does not stop there for me…

Academic Achievement

…the first question NCAA Division l institutions must ask is: Are we in the education business or the entertainment business?” For most, the answer is yes! The eight universities comprising the Ivy Group have it right along with Stanford, Northwestern, Duke and maybe a few others. They are research driven, academic institutions who provide the best academia offers while thrilling us with occasional athletic greatness… yes including the Ivys. Remember “Linsanity?” But for the most part, these bastions of intellect are truly where students are just that… students first.

I love college football and men’s basketball, along with most other sports. (You may eliminate synchronized swimming, curling, and team handball to name a few). But football and basketball are exciting and provide real drama with each possession and game. Many of these kids are gifted athletes hence they are recruited to provide quality entertainment for the likes of us… the people paying public. Herein lies our conundrum. NCAA Division lll schools do not suffer from identity crises. They know who they are and what is important… quality education. Division ll schools are “couch cases.” They suffer from ‘mission drift’ in that they have Dl athletic aspirations with Dlll resources. This makes them certifiable. Then there are the Dl schools who are not the Ivys and it is those universities that we normally think of when football and men’s basketball are the subject. We all know who they are.

When O.J. Mayo declared to play basketball at USC in 2007, he was introduced at a press conference and President Steven Sample had his arm this young man when the player announced “one and done.” Prior to that time, a player could go directly to the NBA out of high school like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, but the NBA didn’t want to get into a battle with the NCAA so they established a policy where a player had to be at least nineteen years of age and one year removed from high school. OK, but what does that say about “Your University?” Again, the question of what is our business arises. Have you listened to interviews of some these guys in the NBA and NFL? While a significant number of them are very articulate there is a greater number who are not. What is the mark of an educated person? It is the ability to speak and write with reasonable command of language. So many of these kids have no business being college, but they are there because they entertain us so very well. A few are admitted under ‘special admittance’ programs often set aside for football and men’s basketball players. Many athletes are directed into certain classes by their coaches or advisers where they may receive special treatment and many are provided with tutors who often do their academic work. How do university presidents face their academic senates, faculties, alums and fans with the same speech? They don’t! With each group comes a speech designed to foster their respective interests.

The Solution

…now that I have concluded my little rant, I offer a solution. Admit only those students who would normally qualify for admission without consideration for their athletic talent. If an athlete qualifies for admission and wants to be a student-athlete, so be it. Sport in college was initially designed as a divergent activity to take respite from the rigors of academic life. But, what about the kid who wants to be a college athlete at ‘Your University’ but has no interest in college? He just seeks a venue to showcase his ability to the NFL and NBA scouts. Is there a place for him to entertain us? The answer plain and simple is yes. In ‘Alfieland,’ one does not have to be a student to represent ‘Your University’ in any sport. In fact, if an athlete wants to attend another institution but will represent yours in athletics, that would be OK too. Let the powers to be determine the appropriate amount of compensation and let those kids use that money for whatever they deem appropriate… like tuition, room, board, books, fees, etc. If our athlete wishes to allocate his largesse in another way, well, this is an individual choice to which he is entitled. Everyone gets a win under this arrangement. Student-athletes are still just that, students who happen to be athletes; athletes who are not students still get to demonstrate their great skill to those who may pay them significantly more than their college earnings; the institution can still take pride in their athletic legacy; faculty members never have to compromise their principles to accommodate the athletic department; alums can still walk into their clubs boasting of the last victory; fans are still paying top dollar for quality entertainment and just think, university presidents can espouse the same ‘dreck’ to every audience regardless of stripe. My two cents!


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4 Responses to College Athletics: The Toy Department of Higher Education

  1. Gordon Maddux

    I agree with you and am trembling at the reaction the thugs at the NCAA will offer. Your position makes way too much sense to have a chance for acceptance.

  2. Anne

    Hi Alfie, I am waiting for your next installment. Were you bumped off by the thugs at the NCAA like Batman suspected?

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