Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports

Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports

Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports

Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports


Big-time college sports embodies the ideals of amateurism and provides an important complement to university education. Or so its apologists would have us believe. As Andrew Zimbalist shows in this unprecedented analysis, college sports is really a massively commercialized industry based on activities that are often irrelevant and even harmful to education. Zimbalist combines groundbreaking empirical research and a talent for storytelling to provide a firm, factual basis for the many arguments that currently rage about the goals, history, structure, incentive system, and legal architecture of college sports. He paints a picture of a system in desperate need of reform and presents bold recommendations to chart a more sensible future.

Zimbalist begins by showing that today's problems are nothing new--that schools have been consumed for more than a century by debates about cheating, commercialism, and the erosion of academic standards. He then takes us into the world of the modern student athlete, explaining the incentives that, for example, encourage star athletes to abandon college for the pros, that create such useless courses as "T



I KNEW something was amiss in the fall of 1992 when my 12- and 13year-old-sons, Michael and Jeffrey, announced that they wanted to attend the University of Michigan. In March of that year, Michigan had appeared in the NCAA basketball finals. Three years earlier they won the national championship. Michigan hats and sweatshirts were hot items in Northampton, Massachusetts. Jeffrey and Michael, of course, knew nothing of Michigan's fine academic reputation and had no idea what they wanted to study, but for the moment anyway they wanted to become Wolverines.

I had never grown very attached to college sports. I grew up in a suburb of New York City in the 1950s where I enjoyed watching the Yankees win every summer. The Yankees provided all the vicarious thrills I needed. No need to follow St. John's, NYU, or other college powerhouses in the area. My high school band did play every year at King's Point (U.S. Merchant Marine Academy) basketball and football games, but I can't remember a single game that they won.

Then I went off to Wisconsin in 1965, a couple of years after they played in the Rose Bowl. But unlike Michigan, the Rose Bowl at Wisconsin happened only once every three decades. I was there during off years—very off. And the basketball team was no better. So I didn't catch college sports fever while in college.

I did graduate work at Harvard and never came within five hundred feet of the football field. I still don't know where the basketball court is.

Shortly after publishing Baseball and Billions in 1992, however, I started to be asked to consult in college sports related litigations. The first solicitation I accepted was in Marianne Stanley's gender equity case against the University of Southern California. This was around the time that my sons revealed their college preference. Since then, I have been an interested and often baffled observer of the big-time college sports scene.

I became still more connected when I was asked four years ago to serve on Smith College's Athletics Committee and two years ago to be the faculty representative to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). The NCAA is split into three divisions, according to the seriousness of each school's pretensions to athletic success. Division I is the most serious. Smith College is Division III—not very serious. But as the country has become more sports crazy over the last two decades, even the not very serious athletic schools are somewhat serious. Several years . . .

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