The Professionalization of College Sports
Richard G. Sheehan
A widespread perception exists that college sports have undergone a dramatic increase in professionalization over the past few decades. Corroborating examples abound. In college basketball, players are increasingly "rented" for one year; that is, a college signs a high-school athlete with the understanding he will attend for only one year before turning professional. Even schools with strong academic reputations such as Georgetown have succumbed to this temptation. Many institutions including Colorado, Miami, and Northwestern have seen some of their athletes encounter well-publicized legal difficulties, just like their professional counterparts. Perhaps most important to the "pro" perception is the steady stream of news articles suggesting a dramatic increase in revenues going into college sports, or at least into football and men's basketball. Examples range from Notre Dame's approximately $1 million per game television contract with NBC, to Florida's $11.8 million contract for its football coach, to the addition of luxury boxes at Alabama, Georgia, and Nebraska, to Florida State's $6 million shoe contract with Nike. Nevertheless, while headline examples are common, relying on specific instances is argument by analogy, which is problematic at best.
The contention that collegiate sports have fallen prey to the evils of professionalization is not new. 1 In the early 1980s schools appearing on national television received approximately $600,000 per game, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) effectively took over women's sports by offering a better economic deal in the short run than the competing Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) could afford. The 1970s witnessed dramatic increases in television-rights fees, ticket prices, and booster