The Shame Of College Sports

Posted by | November 29, 2011 10:53 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

Before Penn State and Sandusky, before Syracuse and Fine, two months ago in fact, Taylor Branch (author of the definitive history of the civil rights movement) wrote a searing indictment of college sports for the Atlantic.  The article is too long to summarize in a blog post but it is hard to read it and escape the conclusion that college athletes should be paid.

The list of scandals goes on. With each revelation, there is much wringing of hands. Critics scold schools for breaking faith with their educational mission, and for failing to enforce the sanctity of “amateurism.” Sportswriters denounce the NCAA for both tyranny and impotence in its quest to “clean up” college sports. Observers on all sides express jumbled emotions about youth and innocence, venting against professional mores or greedy amateurs.

For all the outrage, the real scandal is not that students are getting illegally paid or recruited, it’s that two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence—“amateurism” and the “student-athlete”—are cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes. The tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not.

I love college basketball and my life generally shuts down for the first two weekends of the NCAA basketball tournament.  That said, I’ve always known that I was accommodating a system that has deep seated problems.  The Branch article furthers that view.  If anything good is to come of the horrible scandals at Penn State and Syracuse, perhaps it will be greater oversight of the leviathan known as college sports.

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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