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Money in College Sports? Let's Be Honest

Frank DeFord

Morning Edition
National Public Radio

January 24, 2007

[Note: This material is copyright by National Public Radio, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of National Public Radio.]


There are three things I just don't let myself worry about. Number one, the quality of airplane food. Number two, what Paris Hilton and Britney Spears do when night shades fall. And number three, how much money college coaches make.

I know that especially my disinterest in number three makes me a bad citizen. We're supposed to bemoan the fact that college football and basketball coaches making decent amounts of money compared to what professors do, that this is a perversion of education. But you see, there is the rub.

To acknowledge that the revenue sports have anything to do with education is to play into the hands of the NCAA and other sport sycophants who want you to think precisely that. Revenue sports are just about that - revenue. They have nothing whatsoever to do with education. For the sake of academia, Title IX and reality, football and men's basketball, and perhaps women's basketball and men's ice hockey in a few select places, ought to be removed from college's athletic departments and placed in their own new department of entertainment. This would be the honest way to go about things. Do you care? Do you even know how much Bill Belichick or Phil Jackson or Tony La Russa make to coach major league professional teams? Of course you don't. They make what the market will bear.

College coaches are no different. Sure, some of them care about how their players do in the classroom. But that's incidental. Hey, some professional coaches care about how their players do in the off-season. The point is simply that big-time college sports are for purposes of amusement. And if we all just accepted that fact and stopped with the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, we'd all be better for it.

Much of the agonizing lately has come because Nick Saban, a mediocrity as a coach for the Miami Dolphins, jumped his contract to accept $4 million a year to coach at the University of Alabama. That amount is, for good example, quite a bit more money than is in the entire Alabama state budget for need-based scholarship aid to students. But so what? It's apples and oranges. If coach Saban hasn't been awarded $4 million a year to coach the Crimson Tide, do you think Alabama would have taken that money and given it to help educate poor students? Please.

And it isn't going to change, folks. Not Congress investigating, which it is threatening to do; not educators stomping their feet, like faculty at the University of Oregon who have spoken out appalled that their budgets keep getting cut even as a new $4 million learning center is being built strictly to keep Oregon Athletes eligible; not all the angels in heaven singing a dirge.

Way back in 1939, when the University of Chicago gave up football, the president, Robert Hutchins, bemoaned, it is called overemphasis on athletics but nobody has done anything about it. Why? Well, 68 years later, it's still why and the answer is still the same: simply because we love our college sports. But can't we at least be honest about it?