The Death Of Big-Time Amateur College Athletics

The Rose Bowl - Ducks vs. Buckeyes
These guys are basically Pro athletes, are they not?
The Rose Bowl - Ducks vs. Buckeyes
These guys are basically Pro athletes, are they not?

Does the seemingly ever-emerging Ohio State football scandal really bother anyone else? Because it definitely bothers me.

The problems are almost too numerous to cover in one post, but as I see it, the major ones are pretty easy to establish.  First, “amateurs” are being paid to play sports.  If an athlete gets a scholarship (that isn’t need based), preferred class registration or preferred acceptance to a school, or program within a school, then they are being paid.  The definition of getting paid is “you do something for us, we give you something”.  Ok, that is DEFINITELY happening here.  No question about it.

Do I have a problem with the above?  Not really.  Until the NCAA tries to call all college athletes amateurs.  Because, quite simply, they are not.  Most of the college athletes out there get some sort of break or help from the school, and then a small percentage (including the OSU football team) receive far more than that, and are LITERALLY treated like Pros.

When you get free tutoring, live in special dorms, have entire facilities dedicated JUST to your sport, get booster love (and sometimes cash!) and have coaches tell you, “you’re here to play football”, but are expected to remain an amateur, then there is a problem.  When the apparel companies, video game companies and even the college and universities themselves are making money hand over fist, but the players “can’t see a dime of it”, then there is a problem.

Ohio State’s football program was clearly out of control.  But for big-time college football, that’s the norm.  Believe it!  Players shop at places like Saks Fifth Ave, drive nice cars and are being wined and dined at the nicest places in town.  They hang out at clubs, meet all the local sharks and act like professional players before they even step on campus.  Is there some blame to be placed on the players?  Absolutely.  But in the end, they are only doing what they can get away with, and it is the rules that need to be changed.

OSU and the NCAA were complicit in every single infraction at Ohio State.  OSU cares more about its football program than anything else, and every OSU alum should be embarassed by that.  You are THE Ohio State Univeristy, not Ohio State football factory.  If you want to be the latter, change your name and drop the pretense.  It’s time to get back to a correct priority set here.  Academics first.  If football is so big time, then there should be a ming league.  But to just take American college campuses and turn them into football star production labs is laughable, and probably goes a long way towards why American academic rankings have been slipping consistently when compared to the rest of the world.

College used to worry about educating future generations, now all they care about is how well their BCS team does and how far the bball team makes it into March Madness.  Frankly, it’s kind of disgusting.

And the NCAA really comes off the worst in all of this.  They were set up to keep things clean and fair, and to keep priorities straight.  But now it seems like the NCAA needs its own oversight body, because the job they do is of the lowest standard.  Corporations are allowed to profit massively from college sports, and the gambling that goes on with college sports is pretty much unchecked.  Yet these are amateur athletes who get crushed if they get caught taking even a dollar.  I’m not saying they should be taking dollars either, but you can see the hypocrisy, can’t you?

Now, I know a lot of our readers come from big state schools, or schools with amazing athletic histories, but is that enough for you?  Are you satisfied?  Personally, I’d be a little pissed off if the first thing people said about the school I went to was, “Oh, you guys had an awesome football season last year!”  Because the academics don’t matter.  The 99% of students don’t matter.  All that matters is winning games, producing the next big star and keeping the EA Sports and Nike money coming in.  To me, that’s just not a University… that’s the New York Yankees.

Disagree with me?  I’m sure you will!  But that’s what makes it fun.  College athletics.  Right or wrong?  Sound off!


  1. There have been attempt at “minor” leagues or other leagues other than the NFL…  There are still some in existence… the CFL and the arena football league could both be viewed as a minor league. Minor leagues in football has a history of failing because of fan base. Universities offer more than a minor league ever could. a pre-established fan base. Since it is all about the all mighty dollar thats not going to change. little boys n little girls all over the nation grow up wanting to go to (insert gargantuan state school name) and old men sit on the porch, in some local pub, or at breakfast at waffle house, talking about the glory days at their alma mater and ALWAYS discussing the current status of the program and the future of the football program. All generations will purchase apparel and fan gear. Inevitably this is the way things have to be.


  2. Even if college football and basketball players were given a small monthly stipend, under Title IX, you’d have to give the backup catcher on the womens’ softball team the same amount as your star quarterback.  I’m not sure the economics work, especially when only football and basketball bring in revenue and the rest of the programs are in the red.

      • They are going to college with sports on the side. But you guys are thinking of it as they are going to play sports with college on the side. They don’t deserve having that presser on themselves but they are getting that presser so they get nervous and feel like they have let their whole city down when they are only in college, going to college with sports on the side.

  3. The Romans had their gladiators, we have  BCS football, “Grab some Buds,”  — of course it is corrupt.  I am still trying to figure out why sports is such a powerful part of the human experience.  My current theory is that sports generates a clear result (win or lose) and a clear measure of value, while in most activities we neither win or lose, but just muddle along.

    Anyway, I agree the NCAA system is the height of hypocrisy.  For this reason, I have enjoyed watching the MCLA athletes play lacrosse the last five years.   The guys play the sport for its own rewards, not some external commercial interest.  It is in stark contrast to what I have heard about the NCAA DI athletics.


  4. Connor do you feel that a big name program and a great education can come hand in hand? Ex: notre dame. While some academic giants suffer because they aren’t pulling in students, football and basketball giants pull in more and more students. Becoming a student at one of these schools is like being a season ticket holder at the pro level. These students drive the academics and they are fueled by sports.

    • YES!!!!!! definitely.  JHU and the Ivies are also great examples.

      But the question is, should college ATHLETICS drive the University?  Or should it be academics?  Right now, it seems like sports trump classes.

  5. Student Athletes are there to represent the school. We also must remember that there are far more SA’s than just those that participate in revenue sports (football and basketball). For example, IU has one of the best soccer programs in the nation, yet games are free to attend and they have a tough time filling the stands, let alone turn a profit off of the season. These types of teams aren’t self sufficient and must exist off of the football and basketball income. So how would we allocate money to the student athletes? That’s the biggest question in my opinion.

    Being a division 1 athlete is obviously a full time job. But everyone always talks about “Pryor makes Ohio State millions of dollars, so he should see some of that.” But no one makes that argument for Joe Nobody on the Men’s Tennis team. So should the top superstars be compensated more than the athletes out of the spotlight who could potentially be COSTING the school money?

    I’m all for equality, but I just think it’s an interesting point that I don’t see talked about many places. I think division 1 athletes should be paid more than tuition and a “living stipend”. From what I have seen, the stipend allows for the barest of living, and with sports being a full time job, there is very little time between school and sports to get a paying job.

    • I’m not necessarily talking about PAYING athletes though… maybe just changing how we view college sports.

      I actually don’t think that TP should be PAID to play college football, and neither does the NCAA.   it’s why these guys are “amateurs” but I feel like we’re lying to people about that.  Nothing about TP or OSU football is amateur.  And there is the issue right there!

      Great comment though, Dan!

    • The millions of dollars get made by the schools through judicious supply choking via the NCAA.  Their stranglehold on advertising/sponsors/etc is similar to how diamond values are artificially inflated by DeBeers et al. keeping diamonds out of the market.

      So much college football is on TeeVee because the NCAA positioned it as such.  Other sports could generate revenues through deals to get them on the air, but that would cut into the NCAA profits – since the first season or two or maybe even five would have to be sold at a loss.

      If the NCAA were not in the middle, artificially creating a market, this wouldn’t be an issue.

      I truly believe that, yes, many of the teams that can’t support themselves are unable to support themselves because the NCAA prevents them from doing so.

  6. Obviously you can’t pay every student athlete.  And if only the big BCS schools have the ability to pay athletes, or give significant stipends, then that would really mess with recruiting.

    One solution might be some sort of profit sharing to the athletes of off jersey and merchandise sales.  Another one might be just to loosen the NCAA rules around endorsements; so the sponsors could pay the collegiate athletes to appear in commercials etc, and it would come at no cost to the institution, and maybe the institution could even take a percentage.  Athlete’s would be required to maintain a certain level of academic standing and also have a clean image in their representation of the school to be eligible for these off campus endorsements.  Just a thought. 
    Obviously the big football and basketball players would get more money than a soccer, lacrosse, or tennis star (as they should because they are making more money for the university), but there would also be more local opportunities for those stars of smaller sports to endorse local businesses and by doing so they would raise awareness for their program with the local community and make a few extra bucks.

  7. I’d almost turn this argument on it’s head and instead of focusing on the Athletic Dept’s why not turn the scrutiny on the entire college system in the US right now.  There is a ton of debate right now over the real “worth” of a college degree these days. Giant student loans crush recent graduates and rising tuition mean that schools actually USE big time sports to draw in admissions from students that they otherwise wouldn’t get. College’s seem to work more like a business these days than ever before

    One thing I do agree on, the current system doesnt allow for the flexibility that would allow for student athletes to be properly compensated while also representing a place of higher learning.

    • Great point.  The effect of all of these kids attending that may not have is two-fold: 1. They incur higher personal debt via student loans – debt that cannot be cleared away with bankruptcy, mind you 2. They create a surplus of college graduates which leads to a devaluation of the college degree.  So not only are they assuming huge debt to go to school, they are actively decreasing their net value by contributing to the already overflowing pool of college educated job seekers. 
      There are several places around the country where the bulk of college graduates are working in positions that do not require a degree – for the same money as high school graduates – or even being passed over as “over qualified” compared to high school graduates.  Forget about doing anything close to your major…  Despite the rhetoric from the higher education industry (colleges), having a degree not only does not guarantee you a better paying job, it may actually hinder your ability to get a job period.
      While I sit in my cubicle as the only person in MY OFFICE with a graduate degree (including management), I loathe the fact that I have huge personal debt yet do the same job for the same pay as the girl across the aisle with the GED.