By Richard Vedder
The NCAA has popped up a lot lately on my radar screen. News accounts talk about the cycles in NCCA enforcement of infractions, with coaches trying to get the organization to ease up, while critics are demanding tougher crack downs on rules violators. And then I get an invitation from, of all persons, the President, to a reception on the White House Lawn for championship NCAA teams in several minor sports.
I am two minds about intercollegiate athletics. The one side of me says, "let's recognize that this is professional sports and that we should treat athletes accordingly, namely paying them wages according to their marginal contribution to team revenues." That side of me says we are exploiting students financially, with the gains going to coaches and others in the academic community. If we can have million dollar coaches, we can have million dollar athletes as well. The notion that these are "students" who play basketball on the side while attending school is a fiction in the top Division I schools, and let us recognize that.
The second side of me says, "let us really reform the system." We cannot get all the commercial dimensions out, but we can put big restraints on the length of seasons and on the expeected academic performance of athletes. We can limit red-shirting and other nefarious practices,cut football teams to 60 or so, prohibit freshman from playing, or a host of other innovations. We can return sports to the way they were in 1950 --competitive, popular amongst fans, fun --but some recognition of the fact that college is first and foremost an academic adventure, not a sports one.
I am going to see the President honor, for example, the University of Tennessee's woman golf team. I suspect a majority of those gals do consider the academic mission moderately seriously, and are not looking at college golf as a ticket to future athletic success as a pro. The same is true of bowling,gymnastics, fencing, wrestling and a host of other minor sports. I am not against sports --au contraire, I think competitive athletics builds character, leadership skills, etc. But things need to be put in proper perspective and the current status quo is far from optimal.