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Privatize Collegiate Athletics

In our society we reward those who entertain us with handsome incomes. The average player in the National Basketball Association earns an astounding 5.5 million dollars a year. The annual “income,” that is the value of a college scholarship for a player in this year’s final four is under 30,000 dollars a year. Does that mean that we don’t value collegiate entertainment as much as pro ball? Not in the least. The spoils go however to the schools, not the athletes.

Each team in the final four will earn close to 10 million dollars for their school, with part of that shared with their conference. Serious money for the winners, but even the losers earn close to 2 million dollars. So its a good thing, right? Not really.

Right now very few athletic programs support themselves, requiring considerable subsidies from students and taxpayers in the case of public institutions. Only 1in 8 teams in NCAA division I is a net profit center. When athletic programs are considered in aggregate, only a scant 3 percent reach the break even point. The percentage is even smaller if it exists at all when considering other college athletic associations such as NCAA Division II and III and NAIA.

This situation with athletes may change soon. The National Labor Relations Board recently ruled that the football players at Northwestern University are employees, not student athletes. Their rationale is that the considerable time commitment of the players and the fact that their scholarships are tied directly to their performance on the field makes them employees. NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr stated that athletes “fall squarely within the [National Labor Relations] Act’s broad definition of employees when one considers the common law definition of an employee.”

Schools, the NCAA and the public in general disagree, which is expected when you consider that paying the athletes their due would drive up considerably the cost of entertainment.

Injured Athlete

Injured Athlete

So we have a situation where athletes are grossly underpaid as entertainers, and students and taxpayers have to subsidize the costs for the entertainment. In a global economy can we afford to take money away from academic programs that produce an essential product – an educated workforce?

The only reasonable answer is to entirely sever athletic entertainment from academics. Privatize collegiate sports. Let private corporations lease the name and possibly facilities for teams. In a sense the movement has begun already. It is no longer the Orange Bowl, it is the FedEx Orange bowl.

The logical way would be for the professional teams to adopt collegiate athletics as farm teams. The NFL, NBA, MLB, etc. could finance sports just like professional baseball farm team programs.

Alternately it could be done ad hoc. Big entertainment teams would require big sponsors so how about the Haliburton Sooners and what else but the Walmart Razorbacks? Smaller venues could go much more cheaply so we could have the Whatta-burger Wonderboys of Arkansas Tech.

The Cargill Cornhuskers (Nebraska)? The Volkswagon Volunteers (Tennessee)? Lots of possibilities.

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