“What was allowed to become a circus (college sports) threatens to become the means by which the public believes the entire enterprise (higher education) is a sideshow.”
– Bart Giamatti, former Yale President
Last week yet another college sport scandal has emerged, this time with former Pennsylvania basketball coach Jerome Allen, who admitted to taking around $300,000 in bribes from a businessman in exchange for getting the man’s son into the university with a priority basketball slot. Allen said he also received bags with $10,000 in cash as well as multiple wire transfers prior to Morris Esformes, the businessman’s son, getting into the university. Is the Jerome Allen story the exception rather than the rule when it comes to college sports and corruption? Or is this just the latest example of an “amateur” sports league that has simply become antiquated, reflecting more of an aspiration than a realistic non-professional system?
While there have always been scandals in college sports, it seems as though the corruption witnessed today is more brazen, lucrative, and illegal. The risks some schools have taken to keep student athletes eligible, including grade inflation and other efforts, have never been as problematic as today. Schools including Arizona, Louisville, and North Carolina have been caught up in scandals in recent years, and in every case the incentive was to either attract future student athletes through unethical and/or illegal means, or efforts were designed to provide special accommodations to student athletes in order to keep them eligible — including fabricating grades. Of course, scandals and corruption are not limited to college sports, but the frequency and severity of the crimes committed in college sports warrant much greater scrutiny and preventative measures in order to maintain fair, integrity-based competition.
Can a legitimate amateur sports model exist in America?
College sports are big business, and the revenues have never been greater. The NCAA and member schools enjoy a windfall of money annually from attendance, television, apparel sales, and many other ways. Generally speaking, the better a program performs, the greater the revenue earned. Coaches who are great recruiters not only make their school more money, but they themselves benefit by earning longer and more lucrative contracts. As you can see there are a lot of people who “win” financially when the school wins on the field.
While there are strict guidelines when it comes to recruiting student athletes, these guidelines are regularly compromised or disregarded altogether when it comes to blue-chip recruits. It’s no secret — in some cases one superior student athlete can lead to 4-5 years of team success, creating big spikes in annual revenue for the school and coaching staff. Student athletes know this, and in some cases they actively leverage their status in order to sign with a certain school. With so much riding on getting the right student athletes to create the biggest windfalls of revenue, is it still possible for the NCAA to offer a true amateur sport league?
Can a true, authentic amateur sports model exist in America today? With increasingly more temptations to get the best players in order to make the most money, the future outlook looks pessimistic. The best amateur athletes these days know that somebody, somewhere will provide special benefits and perks, and college coaches know that by having the best players they are rewarded with longer, more lucrative contracts. Driving down revenues would mitigate much of the greed, but that’s obviously not a realistic possibility. The reality is that amateur sports create hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and as these revenues increase we can expect that even more colleges, coaches, administrators, and student athletes will be challenged to play by the rules.