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January 07, 2014 10:00 AM Just Eliminate College Sports

By Daniel Luzer

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Spurred in part by scandals on college campuses, many writers are starting to express concern about the state of college athletics. Sports are basically a business, why are we treating it like something else?

So maybe we just be honest about it and pay the athletes out of the revenues generated by sports.

As Taylor Branch wrote at the Atlantic : “One way or another, the smokescreen of amateurism may soon be swept away….Colleges would likely have to either stop profiting from students or start paying them.”

Louis Barbash wrote in this magazine in the fall that “in 1990, I suggested… that college players ought to be paid and should not be required to be students at the college whose team they play for. They should have done it then. They should do it now.”

Or maybe something more dramatic is necessary.

As Alan Levinovitz arguesat Slate:

America, uniquely among nations, has normalized an absurd relationship between sports and higher education. Just imagine if a similar phenomenon were born of the Vatican’s newly launched cricket team. The sentiment behind the team is laudable. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi hailed cricket as an “expression of inter-culturality” that could inspire “dialogue between peoples,” and seminarian/cricketer Antony Fernando praised sports as a means of learning “to accept both victory and defeat.”
But what if 10 years from now the Vatican’s star cricketers are better known than saints, and more people recognize the coach’s name than the Pope’s?
It is time for our own reformation. Students and parents: Choose schools based on the educational experiences they offer, not the ranking of their teams. Alumni: Donate because your school taught you something, not because it wins games. Faculty, administrators, and presidents: Don’t let your fear of being martyred stop you from speaking out publicly against big-money college sports. If higher education in America wants to preserve its integrity, we have no choice but to demand together: Get your stadiums out of our churches.

Strong words. This would be probably be the best solution. In general college athletic programs don’t even generate a profit. Mostly they just lose money. Only 12 percent of college athletic programs in America generate any profit. Most universities around the world have no such thing as varsity sports, because colleges are state enterprises that exist purely to educate and train students.

The only real reason to continue the sports programs, the only reason colleges benefit from sports, has to do with a sort of ambiguous way that athletic wins might improve the prestige of the school.

This is known as the Flutie effect and comes from the 1984 incident where Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie’s through a successful Hail Mary pass that resulted in his school’s dramatic win over the University of Miami. Applications to the school increased 12 percent that year, and went up another 12 percent the next year.

But even that is questionable, since as BC’s 1984 applications might have had nothing to do with Doug Flutie and everything to do with the decade-long work of the school’s admissions department.

Still, this eliminate the sports reform has about zero chance of becoming reality anytime soon. The industry that is college sports, the strength of the fan base, administrative support, and financial contracts are such that virtually no one is strong enough to dismantle the system.

Having spent so much effort making college sports (sort of) work, there’s no way college administrators are going to give them up without a huge fight. No way at all.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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