By David J. Leonard
The excitement for the upcoming bowl season has just begun. With 35 games beginning December 17th and not ending until January 9th, the bowl season may be the gift that keeps on giving. The national championship game, a rematch between Alabama and LSU, is some 16 days after Christmas, staggering evidence of the extent of the NCAA’s fall economic extravaganza.
This year’s bowl season will also mark another year without reform to collegiate football and college sports in general. It will mark the culmination of yet another collegiate football season where those whose labor, talents, and sacrifices receive the least from the system. Dave Zirin, in “Saluting a Sick System: ‘Sports Illustrated’ Honors Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski,” brilliantly described the year of college sports in the following way:
In 2011, we all learned just how low the NCAA and its member schools would go to defend their bottom lines. We learned how people in power at Penn State University would put the lives of children at risk, if it meant preserving the lucrative legend of Coach Joe Paterno. We learned what Syracuse University and the surrounding community would be willing to cover up—and how many children they would endanger—to protect their own Hall of Fame Coach Jim Boeheim and the $19 million dollar annual cash-cow of Syracuse hoops. We saw Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel resign after a series of scandals that now look quaint, and we witnessed the University of Miami Athletic Department reel under the weight of the gutter economy of exchange between criminal boosters and the school’s President Donna Shalala.
Amid the scandals, the persistent exploitation, and systemic prioritizing of money over anything else, 2011 has also seen an increased emphasis on reform. “Fifty years ago, there was not any kind of money, and the players got full scholarships. Now they’re still getting full scholarships, and the money is just in the millions,” argued South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier. “I don’t know how to get it done. Hopefully, there’s a way to get our guys that play football a little piece of the pie… They bring in the money,” Spurrier said. “They’re the performers.” Similarly, Robert Lipsyte highlights the hypocrisy that is the NCAA: “The true madness of March is the millions of dollars — generated by the kids who touch the ball — that goes mostly to the advertising hustlers, television suits, arena operators, concession hawkers, athletic gear manufacturers and retailers, university administrators, coaches and sports media noisemakers. No wonder they don’t want to share any of that money with the players. They’ve locked the doors on their sweat shop.”
Focusing on the financial difficulties facing many college athletes and the gross disparities between the billions generated the pittance awarded to “student-athletes,” much of the discourse has focused on the question of compensation. Invariably opponents and naysayers dismiss the idea of paying “student-athletes,” arguing that it would be impossible to administer and that paying “student-athletes” violates the core mission of higher education. Despite such claims, what they fail to see (or acknowledge) is that “student athletes” are paid: they are paid with the opportunity to showcase their talents (especially within the revenue sport), have a college experience, and receive a college education/degree. As such, the question isn’t or shouldn’t be whether college athletes should be paid but whether the current levels of compensation are just and fair.