NCAA College Sports Oligopoly


The obsession over sports, long analyzed as half-crazed, defies logical explanation. Even so, it is undeniable that organized athletics is big business. This standard certainly applies to professional leagues, but often it is overlooked just how much money is involved in “so called” amateur games at the college level. A Brief History of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Role in Regulating Intercollegiate Athletics serves as a useful primer. Regulation of intercollegiate athletics may seem a desirable and necessary function to maintain the integrity of sport. In spite of this noble objective, the supervision of the NCAA over college athletics usually comes down to the excessive administration of football and basketball.
Yes, men’s games have a distinct advantage over the rest of the field. There is a simple reason, MONEY. The headline, NCAA approaching $1 billion per year amid challenges by players,  screams louder than any fan packed stadium. “The NCAA made $912.8 million last year, 84 percent of which came from one, three-week event: The Division I men’s basketball tournament.”
Not to be outdone, Forbes reviews The Economics of College Football: A Look At The Top-25 Teams’ Revenues And Expenses. An important and salient point indicates that not all teams are equal. “Those teams who either have their own network or whose conferences have their own network have extra streams of revenue that boost their numbers.”
Since addictive hysteria affects the cash flow and inflates the bottom line, why should the NCAA reap such a large fee for providing auxiliary functions?  In the end, it is an entertainment product not of their creation. Here is the NCAA reply to the question, How can the NCAA be a nonprofit organization when it generates so much revenue?

“The NCAA maintains its nonprofit status because it is an association of colleges and universities sharing a common academic mission. Every year, the NCAA and its members equip more than 460,000 student-athletes with skills to succeed on the playing field, in the classroom and throughout life.”

Awe yes, acclimating the student athlete to the revenue sharing of sports managers and career guidance comes at a very high price from the lordly master of matriculation into collegiate athleticism.
Ever since the decision where a Judge rules against NCAA, the debate over student athlete’s compensation heated up.

“U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken, in a 99-page decision that followed a contentious three-week trial in June, ruled in favor of former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and 19 others who sued the NCAA, claiming it violated antitrust laws by conspiring with the schools and conferences to block the athletes from getting a share of the revenues generated from the use of their images in broadcasts and video games. The injunction she issued allows players at big schools to have money generated by television contracts put into a trust fund to pay them when they leave.
Wilken rejected the NCAA’s arguments in defense of its economic model, saying the “justifications that the NCAA offers do not justify this restraint and could be achieved through less restrictive means” while preserving college sports competition.”

The New York Times frames the issue accordingly in How New N.C.A.A. Rules Will Work.

“Now, college officials argue, they will be able to provide better medical coverage for athletes, in addition to offering more robust scholarships. The athletes will be allowed to borrow against future earnings for insurance.
But critics say that the changes amount to window dressing and that the fundamental unfairness of college sports — the N.C.A.A. and its members profit off athletes, who risk their bodies in competition, without giving them a fair share of the profits — remains unchanged.”

Swimming in a sea of salt water and not a drop to drink seems to be the plight of the superjock.
For a sober viewpoint on the complexity of the problem, Michael Hiltzik makes the case that the NCAA antitrust ruling barely chips at college sports dysfunction.

“Wilken rejects the plaintiffs’ proposal to allow student athletes to make commercial endorsements, because she accepts that the NCAA and its member schools should protect the students from “commercial exploitation.” In other words, the right to such commercial exploitation should be reserved only to the NCAA and its member schools.
The reality of football and basketball players graduating into professional athletic careers makes a mockery of the NCAA’s assertion, in its Division-I manual, that “student participation in intercollegiate athletics is an avocation.”

Lastly, look to the players themselves. Quarterback Kain Colter detailed the College Athletes Players Association position. You know those modern day gladiators, picking cotton on the gridiron or parquet floor plantation is part of learning from this educational experience. College  athletes forming first union, call NCAA ‘dictatorship’ gives that Big Apple spin to the “make it anywhere” theme for sharing box office receipts.

“Colter said the NCAA dictates terms to its hundreds of member schools and tens of thousands of college athletes, leaving players with little or no say about financial compensation questions or how to improve their own safety. That college football generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue only bolstered the argument for a union, he said.
“How can they call this amateur athletics when our jerseys are sold in stores and the money we generate turns coaches and commissioners into multi-millionaires?” Colter asked.”

One need not be a union supporter to recognize that talented athletic competitors have star appeal, and generate wheel barrels of money for their universities and the NCAA. Placing at risk their health and careers each time they perform as trained seals, demands equable compensation. “Show Me The MONEY” is a fair question that should not wait for a Jerry Maguire to arrange after turning pro. The NCAA only protects the corporatist institutions of syndicated media hype and itself, as an agent of sports marketing. The business of collegiate sports revenue generation may not rival the inequities of international finance; however, do not tell that to the rabid fan who lives and maintains an unbalanced perception of significance. There are many more of them; then there are of us.
James Hall – September 3, 2014


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