To the extent that anyone argues, without qualification, that there is not enough money to pay any athletes in college, they are wrong. Some set of schools could pay some set of athletes some amount of money above and beyond the cost of attending the school. The issue is that there is not enough money at the moment to pay even just football and men’s basketball players a significant wage and do everything else that college athletic departments currently do.
All of that other stuff has value. Coaching salaries are a typical target of pay-for-play advocates. If athletes were paid, the theory goes, coaching salaries would go down. But if they did, the best coaches might go coach somewhere else, lowering the qualify of coaching athletes receive. That is just one of many trade-offs, like whether college athletic departments should provide opportunities to a large number of athletes or compensation to a smaller group.
George Dohrmann’s pay-for-play plan then is less ground-breaking for making the numbers work than it is for making the tough choices. Fewer, smaller athletic departments in Division I would, all else being equal, free up enough revenue to provide a meaningful amount of money above the current scholarship ($12,000 in Dohrmann’s example). That comes though at the expense of many non-revenue programs.
Mainly I don’t support Dohrmann’s plan because I disagree with the trade-offs that are made. I generally believe it’s more fair and more appropriate for a university to spread resources and revenue on more athletes rather than fewer. In many ways this is the heart of the current struggle over the future of college athletics, and it is a question upon which reasonable people can differ.
But there is one flaw in Dohrmann’s plan and it comes in the treatment of club sports. Club sports are a sidebar to the article, but if you were politicking to have this plan adopted, they would be central to building support. Allowing nonrevenue teams to fall by the wayside is acceptable, the argument goes, because there is a club sports system that will pick them up. And that on a club team, athletes will receive most of the benefits they would have gotten as a Division I student-athlete.
Take these quotes in favor of the club sports model:
“We work hard and we play hard, and there is that same sense of teamwork and camaraderie.” … “We have gained a lot more life skills having had to work for everything, by not having anything handed to us. And isn’t that what college is all about?”
Those quotes come alongside claims that varsity athletes and club sport athletes are more similar then they are different. And in many ways, they are. There is often a similar time-commitment, athletes are representing the university, and many of the athletes could have been Division II, Division III or NAIA athletes, even Division I in some cases.
The tone of those quotes and the entire piece highlight the differences between club and varsity sports. That difference is explained by Jay Coakley’s power/performance and participation/pleasure models. Elements of the power and performance model are:
- The use of strength, speed, and power to push human limits and aggressively dominate opponents in the quest for victories and championships
- The idea that excellence is proved through competitive success and achieved through intense dedication and hard work, combined with making sacrifices, risking one’s personal well-being, and playing in pain
- The importance of setting records, defining the body as a machine, and using technology to control and monitor the body
- Selection systems based on physical skills and competitive success
- Hierarchical authority structures, in which athletes are subordinate to coaches and coaches are subordinate to owners and administrators
- Antagonism to the point that opponents are defined as enemies
By contrast, the pleasure and participation model focuses on:
- Active participation revolving around a combination of types of connections-connections between people, between mind and body, and physical activity and the environment
- An ethic of personal expression, enjoyment, growth, good health, and mutual concern and support for teammates and opponents
- Empowerment (not power) created by experiencing the body as a source of pleasure and well-being
- Inclusive participation based on an accommodation of differences in physical skills
- Democratic decision-making structures characterized by cooperation, the sharing of power, and give-and-take relationships between coaches and athletes
- Interpersonal support around the idea of competing with, not against, others; opponents are not enemies but those who test each other
One of these sounds like Division I athletics and one sounds like club sports. Neither is good or bad, nor is one better than the other. But they are different things, run in most universities by different departments. There are counterexamples, like BYU’s club men’s soccer team which plays in the highly competitive Premier Development League. If you ask the US Soccer Federation, they might say BYU’s club team is playing at a level higher than Division I.
So aside from the tangible loses, like the national competition, university funding, academic support, and financial aid, dropping teams to club status means asking them to embrace different values and set different goals. It is so different that it should not be considered an alternative to varsity Division I athletics. Those teams are lost. That loss can be mitigated or it can be accepted, but it cannot be explained away with club sports.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.