Thursday, March 19, 2009

March Madness: A Time to Reflect

By Richard Vedder

My Chief Whiz Kid, Matt Denhart, and I have a little article appearing in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal, on, of all things, March Madness. It will be not be on the editorial page, but in the "taste" pages in another section of the paper.

We raise the question about the exploitation of student athletes by adults. Is it right, moral, and ethical, one might ask? Is it really "exploitation"? What are the economics of intercollegiate sports? The little piece Matt and I have coming out only hints at answers to these questions.

Bob Villwock, late of CCAP and now studying great ideas and, I suspect, chasing women in southern France (and running the original Marathon route between Athens, Greece and Marathon), joined Matt in doing a great study of college sports in America, which CCAP will be publishing shortly. They look at some of the great questions posed above, and provide some factual information helpful in assessing the role of intercollegiate sports in America.

So as you watch affordable, exciting and wholesome entertainment over the next couple of weeks in the form of young men running up and down a court and throwing a ball, think of the broader implications of this not only for its participants, but for higher education at large. CCAP will try to help elucidate the issues more clearly for you both tomorrow in the Journal piece and in the forthcoming study.


Dan Shipp said...

I read your column in today's Wall Street Journal, and still can't tell if you're serious. Are you suggesting that we abandon the whole idea of student-athletes and bow to the reality that the top tier of college jocks are hired help? Fine. But let's not persist in the delusion that they are attending the university, going to class, etc. And turn over their slots in the class to someone who really wants to be there for the education.

I think you might want to consider the training that these kids get as part of a college team. Do you think that Kevin Durant's exposure as a college freshman may have ramped up his value to the NBA? Or that a few years at Duke or UConn may add a million or so to a signing bonus?

But my frustration is what happens to the university when one of its highly-recruited stars bolts for the pros after only a couple of seasons. Sure, someone has profited from his labors (maybe the coach) but I'll bet not much more revenue has come into the general fund. So the school has paid for tuition and all expenses, given the kid star status that few professors will ever attain, and gets nothing when he leaves.

Let's try this: 1. Make it a part of every signing agreement with a scholarship athlete that if he leaves school for the pros before completing his athletic eligibility, he (or she) or the signing team will reimburse the school for all expenses paid to and for the athlete to that point. This money will go to a general scholarship that will not be available for athletic grants.

2. Assuming that some college athletes really do want an education, make it part of their agreement that they may continue to attend the school as long as necessary after completing their athletic eligibiity, at not cost, to get a degree. I know this is that practice at some schools, and pro athletes have come back after their playing careers to finish a degree, but I wonder how common it is.

Seems fair to both sides.

Bill D said...

I think the quickest and best way to bring this issue to a head would be for a high school super-athlete to sue the NCAA and its members for collusion – in effect playing the role Lou Brock once did in the professional baseball world. The large state schools would probably claim exemption from the applicable antitrust laws on the basis that they are government entities (they might or might not prevail), but schools such as Notre Dame, Duke, Southern Cal, etc. would have no such defense, and the NCAA could not long survive in its current form if these sort of large private universities were not allowed to participate.

A common objection I hear to the idea of this lawsuit is that the high school super-athlete has the option of going straight to the pros. However, the fact that I have the option of applying for a job at McDonalds does not give Burger King and Wendy’s the right to collude in fixing the maximum wages they will pay me.

I believe a high school star could easily find supporters willing to finance such a lawsuit, but it would take tremendous courage and sacrifice for a young man or woman to step forward.

capeman said...

One thing the Doc completely leaves out is that men's football and basketball are the only money-making sports in college athletics -- the profits go to pay for all the other sports.

So if anyone owes the student athletes money, it's probably the athletes on all the money-losing teams.

As the Doc seldom tires of reminding us (except, as now, when it suits his pet peeve), college athletics programs lose money, with rare exceptions.

In the WSJ piece, the Doc contrasts oollegiate atheltics with minor league baseball, where the athletes typically make $50K.

But doesn't the constant excess academic help that the student-athletes get, in addition to athletic scholarships, add up to something worth a lot more than $50K?

The chance to receive immense adulation, while playing fun sports, while getting special academic coaching.

Sounds better than toiling in some minor-league backwater to me!