The Failure of Big-Time College Athletics

Absolute power corrupts.  And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The foregoing statement originated to describe 19th century European despots.  Their 21st century equivalents?  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

I’m not here to bash college sports.  I love scholastic sports.  Hell, I love all sports.

I played soccer, basketball and football in high school.  Then a year of college soccer, before switching to intercollegiate rugby.  I’ve played rugby for 25 years at various levels.  (I’m pulling the boots out of the closet for a game today).

Like all American men, I live for the fall and college football.  The crackling leaves, the harvest moon, a prime-time matchup of bitter rivals on the gridiron.  Love it, baby.

This year the Emperor has no clothes.

There’s no point rehashing the story of Penn State, the most devastating allegations in NCAA history.  Suffice to say that no one is above the law or reporting criminal conduct to the police.  The fact that the case involves children, only makes it that more insidious.

That case will play out in the Court, perhaps for years.  In the meantime, let’s look at the other trends in college athletics:

1.  The demise of regional conferences.  In a simpler time, the athletic conference was an organization of like-minded schools which could play each other in all sports, not just football.  The conferences were based on regional proximity which reduced travel costs, made games accessible to friends and family, and capitalized on state rivalries.  (Texas vs. Oklahoma is the “Red River Shoot-out,” Texas vs. Oregon is a connecting flight through LAX).

The new super conferences are built solely on TV contracts.  There are no regional rivalries and no road trips.  Smaller sports have no role in this equation.  The entire economic model is based on the presumption that fans, like me, will watch college football even in its most generic form.  They’re wrong.   (Don’t believe me?  Ask yourself why Boston College has pretty much collapsed as a big time program in football and hoops since it joined the ACC ten years ago.  All its games are played away from its home market.  Nobody cares whether or not BC can beat Clemson).

2.  The destruction of non-revenue sports, especially for men not covered by Title IX.  This week, the University of Maryland, the flagship institution for that state, announced it was doing away with its mens’ track, cross-country and swimming programs.  Is there anything more pathetic than the excuses that UMD made to explain its absolute failure to provide basic athletic opportunities to its undergrads?

Maryland bet heavily on football about ten years by financing a major expansion to Byrd Stadium.  That decision was a debacle.  That is why it can’t afford a track coach.  And please stop telling people that football “supports” the non-revenue sports.  (If that’s the case, the explain why every small college, without an FBS football program, is able to offer track, volleyball, swimming, wrestling and the full panoply of sports).

This argumentthat football supports other sports is true for a few major schools perhaps.  It’s complete crap for everyone else, like UMD.  It’s also infuriating that the “solution” of the current Maryland AD is to apparently concentrate all the department’s resources into the hands of a few elite athletes, while eliminating everybody else.  Athletics as eugenics.  What a farce.

3.  The complete impotency of the NCAA.  What a joke this organization has become, in light of the money-driven culture of big time sports.  The role of the NCAA should be to ensure athletic opportunities and competition for today’s college students.  Period.  Instead, it has become reduced to politically correct stunts like pressuring William & Mary to remove the traditional Indian feathers from their logo.  (Wow, thanks for raising our awareness).   Meanwhile, hundreds of teams have been eliminated.

Honestly, it would likely be best if the NCAA disbanded and took the Rule Book with them.  Let colleges organize their own leagues and set their own rules based on similar goals for athletic participation and academic standards.

I have written many times on the importance of team sports, especially for young people.  Athletics teaches us important lessons like endurance, character and teamwork, which are useful in life. They build future leaders. Those opportunities should be open to more student-athletes, not fewer.

We need more students on the playing field, not more getting drunk in the parking lot.







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