The foundation of collegiate athletics has taken some serious hits over the last few weeks. Taylor Branch’s cover story for The Atlantic Monthly, “The Shame of College Sports” rocked the NCAA, and was dubbed by some as one of the most important articles ever written on the subject. That story was followed by the chaos of conference realignment.
Even some of the most distinguished coaches in college sports couldn’t hide their disdain for realignment. Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim stated as follows (as quoted by Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News):
“If conference commissioners were the founding fathers of this country, we would have Guatemala, Uruguay and Argentina in the United States,” Boeheim said. “This audience knows why we are doing this. There’s two reasons: Money and football.”
Virtually everyone agrees that conference realignment is about money, not student-athletes or preserving amateurism. As this notion of amateurism has increasingly attacked, it is useful to see exactly how the NCAA describes it. NCAA bylaw 2.9 states as follows:
2.9 THE PRINCIPLE OF AMATEURISM
Student-athletes shall be amateurs in an intercollegiate sport, and their participation should be motivated primarily by education and by the physical, mental and social benefits to be derived. Student participation in intercollegiate athletics is an avocation, and student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.
Although many believe that amateurism is an outdated notion, the NCAA and colleges remain committed to the concept. Accordingly, when evaluating conference alignment, colleges should be asking about more than television contracts. They should be asking how realignment promotes education and the physical, mental and social benefits received by players. Moreover, colleges should be asking how realignment and the search for additional television dollars helps protect student-athletes from exploitation by commercial enterprises. At the moment, it doesn’t appear that colleges involved in big-time athletics are asking these questions.