John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Musing About March Madness and Money Part III

Drew Koch
Vice President for New Strategy, Development, and Policy Initiatives

After setting the broader commercial context associated with big-time college sports in the first part of this three-part blog installment, and focusing specifically on the plight of minority student athletes in second, I use this, my third and last installment in the “Musing About March Madness and Money” series to make some suggestions about what might be possible.  In this section, I get to the “What if?” questions – questions designed to stimulate thought and possibilities for minimizing the exploitation of student athletes and maximizing their degree completion rates. 

And with that introduction, and all the content and context of the past two installments as a foundation, here are the questions.

What if we were to admit that the so-called “revenue sports” are indeed all about revenue? (In case their name did not tip us off.)

Since admitting this requires us to acknowledge that market principles are, in fact, guiding what goes on in big-time college sports, what if we were to use those market principles to incentivize the very student athletes who seem to be getting exploited under the current system?

What if big-time college sport participants, and by this I mean the universities that field revenue sport teams, were required to show the books to their revenue sport student athletes and their families on an annual basis? This would serve as a form of education for the student athlete who may erroneously believe that there is more “money in bank” than there actually is.  Or, in some cases, it could be an eye opener for the student athletes – something that makes them realize that they are, in fact, the “unpaid professionals” about which Zimbalist has written.

What if big-time college sports were required to annually show their revenue sport student athletes and their families salary information for past revenue sport athletes who did and did not graduate from the institution in a manner that mitigated the impact that a few who may have landed lucrative professional sport contracts?  This would not be that different from what many career service offices do via their recent graduate salary surveys, and it could certainly help underscore the need to complete a degree and not wait for the nearly elusive professional sport contract.

What if the universities that actually had a positive balance after covering all intercollegiate sport expenses with the money generated from their revenue sports (and sports merchandise sales and TV contract monies and other forms of sports related cash stream) – and there are not many of them – were required to give a portion of that positive balance back to the revenue sport athletes who made that balance possible?  This could be provided in the form of a one-time payment once the student completed his or her baccalaureate degree and sport eligibility.  It could also be provided in the form of a scholarship for graduate study once the student completed his or her baccalaureate degree and sport eligibility.  Thus, the money would serve as added incentive to finish a degree and/or pursue further education.   

I realize that some of these seemingly simple approaches might very well be simplistic – that the devil could be in the details.  But we seem to have a system that professes to be one thing and in fact is something very different.  A system that exploits many of the students it is supposed to support – particularly (but not exclusively) students from a racial demographic that has experienced centuries of exploitation in the United States. 

What if we questioned the status quo in big-time college athletics in an effort to be more equitable to student athletes and to encourage them to complete degrees?

What if big-time college sports were required to walk the talk?

What if?

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