Sunday, April 3, 2011

College sports: A national disgrace

We all will gather round the big screen on Monday to see if Butler can finish what it started last year and win one for the little guys. It's the movie "Hoosiers" all over again.

Having grown up mere miles from Butler University, I'm charmed by the idea that a small school from the Midwest can not once, but twice, defeat the big schools and all their money and recruiting power. I'm charmed all the more by the fact that 10 of Butler's players come from ... Indiana. What a thought!

Part of the reason this is a story is that it's so unusual -- nearly unprecedented. For most universities, competing in college basketball or football is a money-losing proposition, subsidized by the taxpayers of the state. This is true unless you are a regular participant in a BCS bowl game or a regular competitor that makes it to the NCAA's basketball Sweet Sixteen. Others, you lose, and more than just games.

Of course, the only thing the players get out of it is a free college education, ostensibly. Some go on to a pro career, which have an average length of about three years. But they certainly don't get to participate in the financial largesse they have brought to the big, perennial victorious schools. Join me as I name them: USC, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Michigan ... we know who they are. If you are Missouri instead of Nebraska, you're losing big bucks on football.

Ah, but you say, these universities are using sports as a marketing tool to attract students. These are the types of student you want to attract -- that come to your school because your blue football turf is regularly seen on TV? Our values are upside-down. And so, I propose some new rules:

1. Coaches for athletic teams cannot be paid more than the highest-paid professor on campus.

2. Programs that graduate a lower percentage of athletes than the school graduates in general must be put on a three-year probation until the percentages improve to no worse than the college's overall average.

3. Accommodation must be made so that at least one-half of the student body may attend each home game before tickets are made available to the general public.

4. We should end the sham and allow universities to pay athletes to play for them. The only part of college athletics that isn't already professional is that the players don't get paid (at least not in a way that we can observe it). Let's call it what it is and pay the athletes accordingly. We'll all be so proud.

5. Athletic programs that don't run in the black should be abolished. This would include most women's programs, and all "minor" sports like tennis, golf, cross country, etc.

6. The country should follow the admirable example of BYU-Idaho, which runs a superb intramural sports program but has no extramural sports. The lack of extramural sports at BYU-I has been so disheartening to students there that they can't build dorms fast enough to keep up with the demand.

Are we serious about competing in the world's intellectual market by continuing to have the best universities in the world? Is it no accident that American's most admired academic universities can't play sports worth a damn? College sports is a disgrace and can't be fixed with a tweak. Football bowl programs are under investigation, students are routinely paid under the table, coaches make 10 times more than college presidents, and most programs rely on tax subsidies to stay afloat. Enough. Kill it and start over.

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