Keith Boyea's Blog

Notes & Commentary on National Security, Current Affairs and Bourbon

Fixing “College” Football (and Basketball)

Thesis: The revelations from the University of Miami suggest that college football and the NCAA are broken.  I propose eliminating athletic scholarships in order to build minor leagues for football and basketball.

This week Yahoo sports published a piece that detailed a long list of illicit, illegal, and dubious behavior by a University of Miami booster and the school’s football team.  This summer Jim Tressel, the head football coach at Ohio State, resigned because he lied to NCAA investigators. The University of Oregon has also recently been linked to illicit booster activity.  All of this is troubling: I can only wonder what isn’t being discovered.

I have a personal interest in this, because I was, in what seems like a long time ago, a college football player.  I’m nothing more than a fan now, but  I have followed the sport very closely since my career ended and I able to empathize with the players involved in a way that I can’t in other aspects of my life.  I think the problem of the NCAA isn’t necessarily the NCAA, it is much bigger.  The biggest NCAA schools have ceased being schools in the traditional way we think of them–they are sports businesses.

The first way to think about this problem is to think about what you think about when you hear USC, Texas, or the University of Florida.  If you are like me, and I suspect most Americans, you think not about the school itself, you think about the football (or basketball) team.  The number one way colleges enter our collective minds is to build a successful sports program.  The problem is also evidenced in the school’s facilities.  Schools have, for many years now, engaged in a “facilities race” to build the biggest, best, and most expensive athletic facilities for their students and their athletes.  (My alma mater, sadly, has engaged in it too.)

The problem with the push to enter the collective mind through sports and to build huge athletic facilities, is that it doesn’t have much to do with the whole point of college–that being a place to learn, study, and grow.  Now, I do think that athletics and sport provide a healthy way to learn competitiveness, cooperation, and teamwork.  But athletics aren’t the only way to learn these lessons, and the investment in facilities and sports teams is far out of balance to the importance of the lessons.  My point here is this:  Colleges at the highest levels of division one, at least in the public mind, have become little more than their athletic programs.  Oklahoma IS the Sooner football team.  Kentucky IS the Wildcat basketball team.

This is not to say that the academic programs at those schools aren’t outstanding–frankly I don’t know.  I’m simply saying that those academic programs have seemingly become secondary to the athletic programs.  Athletic programs are completely professionalized–coaches make seven figures, the TV contracts are in the billions, and the media coverage is all-encompassing.  It is hardly surprising that corruption grew up around the situation.

I could spend several thousand words detailing the failures and inconsistencies of the NCAA.  Example: Just this week the NCAA announced it would allow schools to provide cream cheese with the previously allowable bagels.  (The same week where allegations of a Miami booster paying for prostitutes and abortions.)  But I want to get on to my proposed solution.

I would eliminate athletic scholarships in full.  What I’m proposing, of course, would probably kill college athletics, or at least change them fundamentally.  That’s kind of my point. The athletic tail wags the college dog.  I would spin-off the athletic programs from the colleges completely.  There they would operate openly as the business they already are.  In effect, this creates a minor league system for the NFL and NBA.  The new minor leagues could pay their players–who aren’t college students–and the various leagues could develop rules for fair compensation (much like the salary cap in the NFL).  In effect, the six major conferences would become the football equivalent of Triple A baseball, and the more minor conferences just below.

I’m not a huge baseball fan, but their minor league system works.  College baseball is not the spectacle football and basketball are, in part because the best players skip college baseball altogether.  Under this system, kids could play in the minor league system for five years, after (or even before) that they’d be eligible for the NFL draft.  If a kid isn’t drafted, he can go to college where ever he wants.

I recognize that this is a radical change.  But I think after what has happened this summer in college athletics, it is time to start thinking about radical change.

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Written by keithboyea

August 21, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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