Another aspect of the capitalist perversion of education can be found in college sports. The friendly and inherently meaningless competitions of youth are increasingly packaged and quasi-professionalized. The values that would justify the otherwise nonsensical pursuit of various sized and shaped balls—camaraderie, cooperation, perseverance, self-discipline, and “sportspersonship”—have taken a back-row seat (on a bus!). To be sure, colleges still mouth the mantras of noble aspiration, but they put their money/time/prestige into luxury-box-equipped arenas, coaching salaries and training palaces. Chatbot tells me that the average Division 1 college basketball head coach is paid $2.7M and the average college professor is paid $80,000 (a ratio of 34:1). Something is clearly out of whack.
I was recently discussing the surprising outcomes (so far) in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament with a friend of mine, who is a fully registered fan of many sports (particularly baseball and basketball). He explained that since it is now legit for college athletes to be paid for endorsements (since 2021) they are incented to play for teams and in cities where they can best leverage their “brand” and bring home pretty substantial (6-figure) bucks. The NCAA even made it easier for them to transfer from school to school. Thus boosting the game of the U of Miami. The whole thing is a recipe for corruption. (I offer no explanation for Princeton’s Cinderella act or other upsets during the tournament).
Now, I do not begrudge young athletes “cashing in” on their abilities. The line between “professional” and “amateur” athletes is hopelessly blurred. Rather, my concern is with the remnants of integrity to be found in the halls of academe. Under the rubric of “competition,” such student-athletes are scouted, recruited, subsidized, tutored, and graduated on the backs of a wave of resources that dwarfs those available to the average student.
And for what? The prestige of being an also-ran in a tournament of the top 72 college teams in the country (i.e., one of the 71 teams that didn’t win; that’s over 98% of them). A tournament whose results, particularly for these “also-rans,” and after a year or two, fall into the nether reaches of Wikipedia.
In this critique, I understand and dismiss the arguments that “all the extra money comes from outside fans/donors,” and that colleges “profit” from college athletics financially (as well as in terms of prestige). These rationales are prime evidence of submission to capitalist mentalités from institutions who are increasingly struggling to deliver their prime objective: productive and responsible adults/citizens. These colleges all have well-honed machines that take all manner of government research grants and shave off 5-10-15% as “overhead,” which funds go into the general university budgets. Why not a 25% slice of all athletic donations to support actual education?
Why not a cap on college coach’s salaries at three times the average salary of full professors or the average of the top five academic administrators in the university?
Why not a limit on recruiting expenditures? There are plenty of paid and alumni talent scouts out there. Why should some coach from Texas be scouting in California (or vice-versa)? The talent will rise, it can just rise locally.
Why not limit the number of athletic scholarships and put the resources to academically capable but needy students? Or, at least, have the scholarships available only to students from the home state of the institution? What would be lost to society if players played for the schools in their home states?
Such steps might have a marginal effect on the big athletic programs around the country, but their enactment would be a useful signal of purpose and values. This is especially true for public universities (who generally have the biggest programs and the smaller academic endowments).
More radically, universities could just drop their programs in the sports that have the biggest professional leagues (basketball and football). Right now, these (very) profitable businesses are getting all their talent developed for them at virtually no cost. Let’s have them set up “minor leagues” as baseball does. They could even keep the same uniforms and pay the universities rent on their stadiums. In fact, just to keep it simple, each university could sell its “franchise” lock/stock/barrel to the NFL/NBA. The operations could remain as they are, but wouldn’t be formally part of the University. Coaches and athletes would be paid market rates, but the fiction of “scholar-athletes” could be dispensed with.
In the end, it’s not clear to me why intra-mural sports or friendly club competitions between schools in a region couldn’t achieve the same level of benefit to the students in terms of camaraderie, cooperation, perseverance, self-discipline, and “sportspersonship” without all the empty hoopla.