Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Bowling for Dollars

A Free Education

Sitting in the living room of a star high school athlete the college coach makes promises to the parents. Their son will get an education, he will be looked after, he will be kept safe, the coaching staff will treat him as well as he is treated at home, plus he will eat at the training table so the parent's food bill will drop significantly. The parents laugh then express their concern that their son has never been the best student. Not to worry, says the coach, we have academic advisors who will help him select classes and tutors who will help him academically. He will become a student and an athlete. He'll earn a college degree - Free.

It is a spiel that is presented thousands of times in hundreds of homes across America each year as coaches recruit what they hope will be the best athletes in the country. Some coaches fly in private jets, others criss-cross the country in search of the elusive difference maker. Sounds expensive, right? You betcha. Last year THE Ohio State University was THE leader in the money game. THE athletic department took in nearly $ 60 million. Of that amount it spent more than half ($ 32.5 million) on its football program. While THE Ohio State University might be the national champion in income and spending, they did not win football's BCS Championship this year. That honor went to poor stepchild Louisiana State University who brought in a paltry $ 48 million and spent a measly $ 17 million on its program.

So where does all this money go? Can't pay for a tee shirt for an athlete. That is an NCAA violation. Ditto if a booster wants to take an athlete to dinner or buy him a warm jacket in the winter or make any other purchase that is not available to the non-athlete student. So what is in it for the athlete? A chance to play professionally and earn millions each year? That is the carrot, but the likelihood of a high school athlete becoming a brain surgeon is better than that of a high school athlete becoming a professional football player and earning multi-millions per year.

Ok, but at least the college athlete gets a degree, right? After all, the sportscasters in always refer to the athlete who "graduated from the University of So-and So." Wrong again. At least a misnomer. If the athlete is white and plays football or basketball he has a 50-50 chance of earning a degree. If he is not white those chances drop significantly. Remember, young men who are willing to trade their bodies for an opportunity to earn the big bucks for the most part start out as poor, inner-city, undereducated high school students, and often end up as poor, inner-city, undereducated college dropouts.

College student-athletics as it is presented by ESPN, ABC, NBC, Fox and other major media outlets and their advertisers is a fraud. Coaches make millions, TV and radio networks make hundreds of millions, bowl organizers and licensed product makers make millions, communities and colleges make millions and the watchdog NCAA makes millions. The athletes make.... nothing. Amateur athletics? A big lie.

I can think of few other examples when so few have toiled to enrich so many. And the few who toiled, risking permanent injury, are so poorly compensated. How can this happen? It was once summed up to me by a coach in simple words that even I was able to understand: Sports has its own section in the newspaper. A political debate or math competition does not draw 102,000 screaming fans. Those screaming fans, who pay the freight, don't care if the gladiator for whom they are cheering attends class, gets a degree, or is paid part of the spoils. Go State.

A little blogging music Maestro.... "Hail to the Victors."

Dr. Forgot

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