Dienhart: Time for college sports to join real world

I have to admit: Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports hit the nail on the head with his recent piece about the NCAA not seeing the totality of the picture when it comes to the future of intercollegiate athletics.

In sum, not all college sports are equal.

It’s time to acknowledge that and take appropriate actions to a model that is woefully outdated and unfair.

It’s time to exit fairytale land and embrace the cold, hard fact many don’t want to embrace in this popsicle-for-everyone-world: LIFE ISN’T FAIR.

Not everything and everyone is created equally. So, they shouldn’t be treated as such. It’s called the REAL WORLD, people. And, it’s about time to dump a bucket of cold water on the head of college sports and make it join the club. It’s gonna get dragged there sooner or later, whether it wants to or not.

College sports are a mega-billion dollar industry for basically two reasons and two reasons only: football and men’s basketball.

Period. End of story.

Football and men’s hoops pay the bills. They are why the lights work in wrestling room. They are why the women’s hoop team can go to the Caribbean for a holiday tournament. They are why the softball coaches have computers.

Without football and men’s hoops, this current model of college athletics would fold. Yet, football and men’s hoops are treated basically the same as the lacrosse and cross country teams.

Raise your hand if that makes sense to you. Exactly.

This isn’t about Title IX or men vs. women, either, so spare me your emails. This is about what makes business and common sense. There still can be a women’s lacrosse team and a men’s soccer team. But let them pick up the gas bills for the bus and buy their own balls.

But, you see, the colleges are drunk on money. They are addicted to it. They want more, more, more as they continue to prop up a fatally flawed system that many schools strain to sustain. What an unnecessary burden, when you consider some of the more vital issues facing schools on the academic aside from making sure the water polo team has new nets.

Football and men’s basketball also are over inflated in many respects. But, they feed the beast.

Wetzel is on to something. This is a broken and flawed model that’s being pushed and scrutinized like never before—thanks to the CAPU—and possibly headed toward its demise. Solutions:

1. De-emphasize every sport. Push away from the table that has all of that TV and merchandise loot stacked to the ceiling and go the way of Division III athletics.

Sports at their lowest NCAA levels seem to me to be truly what intercollegiate athletics should be about and why they were started to begin with. No scholarships are given. No massive TV contracts that push game days and game times all over the place and complicate the endeavors of the student. A 9 p.m. ET start for a game on a Tuesday night? How is this good for getting an education? It isn’t. It’s only good for making money and pleasing the TV execs who write the big checks with all of the zeroes on the end of the numbers.

Patti Sapone/The Star-Ledger

Patti Sapone/The Star-Ledger

The TV honcho in Bristol, Conn., doesn’t give a rip about Johnny Hotshot’s biology test. He just wants the best guarantee on TV viewership numbers so he can sell more ads and make more money.

Is this really why college sports were started? Really?

It sure doesn’t seem like every decision made in the athletic director’s office is based on “what’s good for the student-athlete,” if you ask me. And that should be the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS.

It seems like we often romanticize about the Ivy League and its purity. No athletic scholarships. No big TV deals. No postseason basketball tourney. No teams sent to the FCS football playoffs. We say: Wow, the Ivy is college sports as they are meant to be played. Well, let’s copy that model across the board.

Remember: Getting a degree is what college is all about. It’s not about making money for an overinflated athletic department trying to generate enough cash to pay the massive salaries of administrators and make sure the swimming team can go to Aruba for a meet over spring break. And how much class time is missed by teams in the NCAA tourney?

How is being away from campus for three or four days at a time good for a student? How does practicing hour after hour help a kid earn a degree, as athletes often say is required? That’s time away from school. LOTS of time away from a school. How is that good?

None of it helps. But it does help fuel the war chests of schools.

Wetzel said it well in his story:

“Why is it just assumed that elite, revenue-generating football and basketball players should automatically concede their market value to prop up smaller sports? Why are all players the same when no school pays the football coach and the field hockey coach the same amount?

“Most universities don’t have the resources to move to that kind of model,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said, “So they’ll probably be playing Division III style.”

Exactly. That’s where this is heading one day.”

If kids don’t wanna come to school with their top priority being to graduate, then don’t come. That’s fine. College isn’t for everyone. If they don’t want to play for the love of the game with no athletic scholarship, then don’t come. That’s fine. It’s not the mission of colleges to train pro athletes. Let the NFL, NBA and other leagues figure it all out. This one-and-done issue in college hoops that has many pundits rankled would be a non-issue if there were no scholarships—guaranteed.

It’s also not the mission of a university to entertain alumni with games.

If the Division III model seems absurd for “big-time” athletics, then here is another solution:

2. Keep football and men’s basketball as NCAA sanctioned sports and make all of the others “club” sports, as Wetzel deftly points out.

Without being encumbered to “prop up” all the other sports at a school, football and men’s basketball players should be able to be paid, right?

Think of money saved not needing to pay a woman’s basketball coach $500,000 or not to have to fund scholarships for the baseball team. What a huge savings. Take that cash, and share it with the players in the two sports that make the bacon.

Football and men’s basketball.

If college sports truly were a business, this is how it would be done. If a sane businessman from Wall Street looked at the books of an athletic department, he surely would slash the unprofitable endeavors. How could a business in the real world possible pay the coach of a sport that loses thousands of dollars a $200,000 salary? That business would be out of business in a heartbeat.

Baseball, swimming, golf and other sports can continue at the college level. But they can continue as club sports. Hey, it’s about the spirit of the competition, right? It’s not about overseas trips, fancy uniforms, shoe deals, TV contracts, well-paid coaching staffs and the like.

Hang on. This is going to be interesting as we enter a transformative period that will forever change the games at the college level.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (3 Comments)
buci01 on 4/7/2014 @ 3:48pm EDT Said:

I believe that as the “Blame” needs to be on the steps of the Four Lettered network, (espn) point blank. By paying athletes , they become State employees . When the athlete has a serious injury, they could become disabled for a period of time after Graduating and how many Inoversities could continue paying those Inflated Health costs ??? My solution would be to consider Student-Athletes the same as a Botany or a Music major and pay for they Education. Therefore they will also pay all of their medical bills, dining out, and Athletic Clothes. NCAA needs to Stop the Four lettered network to a sideline reporting situation.

huskerfanbb on 4/7/2014 @ 5:00pm EDT Said:

No. This doesn’t need to change. If you want to allow 18 year olds to jump from high school to the pros–then fine, do that. Then those elite talents can get paid. Only a VERY FEW would get to do so, anyway.
People talk like a full-ride scholarship is chump change. It’s not. Even at a modest state university, many college degree would approach $100,000 for a 4 year degree. If we are talking Stanford–that won’t cut it.
Sure it’s the football and basketball teams that make money–but not at EVERY school. If you want to pay players market value, then you’ll have 10 schools that can compete in that arena. Ohio State would be fine. Michigan, Penn State, and probably Nebraska in the B1G. That’s about it.

Andy on 4/8/2014 @ 9:54am EDT Said:

Tom, you really missed the point. The only reason the movement to pay college athletes has grown is because the NCAA, ESPN, College Athletic Directors, etc. are making hundreds of millions of dollars off of “amateur” athletes. The swimmers, wrestlers, and volleyball players aren’t getting rich due to the basketball and football players.

Several smart people, including Jay Bilas, have pointed out the hypocrisy of the NCAA, and in turn the university members, making millions off of the “amateur” athletes and then enforcing upsurd rules and anti-capitalist principles such as not allowing an athlete to benefit from their likeness.

The other (non-football/basketball) athletes have no role in the hypocrisy of the NCAA, the universities and the commercial entities benefiting exorbitantly from football and basketball. Here’s an idea: why not pay football players and basketball players a portion of the television money universities make from ESPN, FOX and the like. Why not pay college basketball players when the tournament they play in brings 70,000 plus to Jerry World? I guess you would prefer the swimmer on a partial scholarship give up his/her $10,000, or the wrestling coach give up his laptop. After all, they didn’t earn that money. The NCAA on the other hand…