Way Outside the Lines. Tom Farrey and Paula Lavigne of ESPN went after the NCAA in an “Outside the Lines” piece over the weekend.
Selling the NCAA (ESPN)
This is a terrible piece of journalism. I’ve made it a point in this space not to shill for the NCAA and have praised work that does not necessarily favor college sports. This project, however, should embarrass ESPN.
The linchpin is the supposed revelation that 60 institutions generate revenues from expenses from their athletics programs, as opposed to the 14 that the NCAA claims. The extrapolation is that NCAA purposefully uses the smaller number to make a phony case that there’s not enough money to pay student-athletes.
What the authors refuse to accept is that the programs beyond the 14 have surplus revenues because they have received money from their overall institutions to balance the books.
One need only look at the ranking of net surpluses that accompanies the story to conclude that the authors’ methodology needs rethinking. With all due respect to Akron, there is no way that program is generating a “profit” with average home football attendance of 10,185 (next-to-last in Division I’s Football Bowl Subdivision). That’s not a slam on the Akron program. The institution’s leadership has its reasons for classifying at the elite level, and it is willing to pay a price to stay there.
But nobody should believe that Akron turned a $546,185 “profit” (tucked between Utah and South Carolina on the ESPN list) without a significant subsidy from the school.
The story is based entirely on that kind of data analysis, along with the observations of antitrust economist Andrew Schwarz and former West Coast Conference Commissioner and NCAA staff member Mike Gilleran (the authors also throw in an archived brickbat from film-maker Spike Lee, who called the NCAA “pimps” in a January rant).
Gilleran says he doesn’t care if student-athletes receive money from third parties. Since Gilleran might have had something interesting to say on that point, I wish the producers would have given him a chance to amplify. The few seconds they gave him made his observations seem superficial.
As for Schwarz, the gist of his position is that there’s plenty of money for colleges to pay student-athletes in the traditional sense. He doesn’t buy the explanation that money from revenue sports goes to support nonrevenue sports, essentially declaring the practice racist.
There is so much room for legitimate discussions about how money and college sports interact. You hate to see the opportunity squandered on junk like ESPN’s “Selling the NCAA.”
(If you want to learn more about the revenues and expenses of college sports, here is the definitive NCAA report.)