NCAA sporting model is broken and it’s time for Congress to step in
By Andrew Zimbalist and Donna Lopiano
California Act SB 206 has awakened politicians across the country. The law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on September 30, prohibits California colleges from preventing students from independently seeking and receiving income for the use of their NILs (names, images, and likenesses) from third parties outside of their own. institutions. Seventeen other states have introduced or plan to introduce similar bills, and related legislation has been presented to the US Congress.
We should support the basic principle of these bills and be upset by the current NCAA system that prevents athletes from engaging in outside employment, which is a right enjoyed by non-athletic students. It is one thing for the NCAA to declare a student who is a professional athlete ineligible for college sports. It is a whole other matter to tell athletes that outside of the season they cannot engage in other income-generating activities, such as a youth sports camp or be paid for product approvals. These economic activities and opportunities are not unreasonable as long as (1) the institution does not organize or use them as recruitment incentives, (2) the athlete fully discloses these agreements, and (3) the athlete shows that these revenues do not exceed market value.
Faced with the loss of control over an athlete’s reasonable outside employment and its LULL use, the NCAA claims the sky is going to fall. The “purity” of college athletics will be lost. These cries of alarm are reminiscent of the mantra of the 1970s: “If women are required to have equal opportunities to participate in college sports, it will be the death of high-profile football.” Some schools are expressing specific fears such as the possibility that corporate sponsors of college teams will start dividing their promotional budgets between schools and athletes. Depending on how this division is done, it could have a greater or lesser impact on the revenue of the sports department. But giving athletes the right to earn free market income outside their institutions is not going to punch the economic stomachs of intercollegiate sports programs.
The economic system of college sports has long been broken for other reasons: uncontrolled spending on recruiting, lavish facilities for athletes, and extraordinary salaries for coaches and administrators.
The NCAA Division I Football Bowl subdivision represents the 130 most widely marketed sports programs in the country. According to the most recent NCAA report, the athletic departments of these schools experienced a median operating deficit of $ 16.3 million in 2017-18, and that figure does not take into account most of the capital spending and many indirect costs. The situation is the same in the rest of Division I and in all of the other competitive divisions of the NCAA, where 100% of institutions run athletic programs heavily reliant on funds from all students.
These virtually ubiquitous deficits occur despite the fact that nearly all sports program budgets are supported by extraordinary grants from student tuition fees under the guise of ‘general fund contributions’ and compulsory tuition fees – heavily supported by 30 billion dollars in federal Pell grants, by the federal government. tax advantages and state financial support for new installations. Tuition and compulsory tuition fees continued to rise steadily, producing record levels of student debt.
Why are there no constraints to these constantly increasing costs? College sports departments do not have shareholders who demand profits for dividend payouts or stock appreciation; rather they have stakeholders (boosters, alumni, students) who demand victories – win at all costs. The career paths and salaries of sports directors and coaches are directly linked to the competitive success of their teams. This means that when additional revenue streams in (in the tens of millions) from media deals or donors, DA invariably finds a use that will help teams compete.
Coaches are paid for the value produced by the unpaid players they recruit. In 2019, 176 college football and men’s basketball coaches received salaries above $ 1 million; 71 coaches exceeded $ 3 million and 38 exceeded $ 4 million. The highest paid coach was Dabo Swinney at Clemson, with a guaranteed salary of $ 9.3 million plus bonuses of $ 1.1 million and a potential buyout clause of $ 50 million. Swinney’s assistant coaches raised a total of $ 6.8 million, bringing the total of all football coaches to $ 17.2 million, not counting their handsome perks and possible outside income.
Since there are no drafts like those used in professional sports, plentiful dollars are spent recruiting impressionable teens – building Taj Mahal locker rooms, practice tables, luxury dorms, and gyms. training, competition, meeting and IT not open to non-athletic students. College presidents admit that football and basketball coaches are more powerful and are beyond their control. They cannot stop the building frenzy or the salary increases. No one at the campus level can step on the brakes.
But at the heart of the problem is the fact that the system is ethically broken. Highly marketed football and basketball athletes in particular are not receiving the training they are promised. The institution forgoes its college admission standards and then engages in an academic referral system designed to prevent the ill-prepared athlete from failing in class. The athlete is responsible for choosing less demanding academic majors and enrolling in plush classes, and then is supported by an academic support system made up of tutors and learning specialists controlled by the sports department. NCAA continues to allow coaches to demand 30-50 hours per week of athlete’s time during the season while misleading the public into believing there is a 20-hour-per-week limit on activities related to sport that allows athletes to meet their obligations in class.
The “purity” of varsity athletics is further shattered because it does not adequately protect the health and safety of athletes. There are no college athlete unions demanding that schools spend more on athlete health benefits and protection. Athletes and their families are required to use their own insurance policies as a condition for athletes to attempt to join teams. There is no guarantee that the institution will cover the full cost of a sports injury. There is no long-term coverage for athletes who are at risk of possible brain damage and other life-changing ailments by participating in collision sports. Athletes stressed by the unreasonable weather and physical demands of their sport, as well as academic performance expectations, experience sleep deprivation and mental health issues.
And there is another train speeding down the tracks. Unless prohibited by future national legislation, legalized gambling is coming into varsity sports and varsity athletes, without sufficient remuneration, will be increasingly vulnerable to the tricks of gambling.
So where are the adults in the room? Who will face such madness and respond to the need for reform? NUL rights are only a modest first step. Today, the NCAA and sports administrators are busy raising unwarranted fears about the dangers of NILs. The NCAA is unable to impose the necessary constraints. The NCAA restructured in 1996 to cede control of its policies to the most commercialized sports programs (the 130 members of the FBS). The FBS plutocracy has taken over. The NCAA has had ample time to reform itself and conform to its vision of intercollegiate athletics as an after-school program. It completely failed.
So Congress may be the only hope to fix this broken and failing NCAA system. National policy is already intervening in college sports through tax breaks and massive subsidies. It is time for more constructive intervention and, as called for in a bipartisan bill drafted by Donna Shalala (D-FL), for the appointment of a Congressional advisory committee to examine public policy options to move forward. before.
Andrew Zimbalist is the Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College, the author of several books on varsity sports, a frequent consultant in the industry, and a member of the Drake Group, an advocacy group of academics who aims to “defend academic integrity in higher education against the corrosive aspects of commercialized college sports.” “
Donna Lopiano is the former CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation, former director of women’s athletics at the University of Texas and president-elect of the Drake Group.