Why College Needs Divorce from Football, Basketball

By Blackistone, Kevin B. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, January 16, 2014 | Go to article overview

Why College Needs Divorce from Football, Basketball


Blackistone, Kevin B., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


In 1995, several years after he stepped down as the NCAA's executive director of 36 years, Walter Byers published Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes. The title didn't belie the book's content. Among Byers revelations was the deception he sought in coining the well-worn phrase "student-athlete" to describe college athletes.

Byers wrote he did so in 1964 after two state courts ruled in separate cases that scholarship students injured or killed in the course of their athletic duties were actually university "employees" due workers' compensation. "[The NCAA] dreaded [the] notion that NCAA athletes could be identified as employees by state industrial commissions and the courts," Byers stated. "We crafted the term student-athlete, and soon it was embedded in all NCAA rules and interpretations as a mandated substitute for such words as players and athletes."

Those of us in the media perpetuated the semantic sleight of tongue and, in doing so, provided cover for the NCAA in public perception and legal challenges to the truth about college athletes' status. Ever since, they've been described as amateurs being rewarded with a scholarly opportunity rather than what they really are--another set of employees, like administrators, faculty or staff, on the college campus.

So the question bubbling up now--with the freshest challenges to the NCAA's plutocracy led by the O'Bannon lawsuit--about whether college athletes should be paid is shortsighted. College athletes, expressly those in appropriately described revenue-generating sports of football and basketball, should be remunerated, which they already are by return of tuition, room and board. But they should also be afforded benefits. They should get workers' comp and health care just like others on campus who toil to maintain or manufacture profits for the higher education corporation. To continue to do anything less in the multibillion-dollar financial environment that college athletics has become isn't simply unfair; it is unethical if not immoral.

Take, for example, the University of Texas. The latest information it reported to the U.S. Department of Education showed that, during the 2011-2012 school year, the university spent $25.8 million on its football team and that football team returned $103.8 million in revenues. One reason that contributed to the extraordinary return on investment was a 20-year, $300 million contract signed with ESPN in 2011 to create the Longhorn Network, which is a new telecasting arm for all Texas sports. Another factor was licensing royalties Texas earned for selling its logo and burnt orange color on merchandise, which, for an eighth consecutive year, was the top-selling college merchandise in what is a $4. …

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