For 30 years now, college football has chased the green


Many think it’s time all the workers get their share


It went unnoticed, but last week was the 30th anniversary of college football turning into a big green industry. Green as in $$$.

From the early 1950s, the NCAA negotiated college football television deals. Then came the 1980s. The College Football Association was formed by a group of schools and got its own TV deal. A couple of years later, after two universities sued college sports’ governing body, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA had restrained trade and limited the supply of televised football.

It’s been a mad rush for big dough ever since.

Drexel University Sport Management Professor
Ellen Staurowsky
Photo by Charles Hallman

The Gophers last Thursday opened their season on the CBS Sports Network, which over-sponsored everything from starting lineup to the pregame coin flip. The five-year-old BTN, along with ABC and ESPN, is expected to supply around $20 million to each of the 12 Big Ten schools, including Minnesota.

The Pac-12’s football games are on seven different networks. Channel 23 locally is the home for the SEC football network despite the fact that there is not a team anywhere in the Midwest. The University of Texas has its own network.

Schools and coaches today are seeing more and more green, while the only green the players see is the turf they play on. They still get their Billy Preston share — nothing from nothing.

Drexel University Sport Management Professor Ellen Staurowsky co-wrote College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of the NCAA Amateur Myth, and also did a scholarship study last year that showed how much they fail to cover. While the athletic scholarship — tuition, room and board, and books — “has essentially remained the same” over the years, “the college sports-entertainment complex has gone through the roof,” Staurowsky said in a phone interview last week. Everybody else is “reaping incredible financial benefits from the work of the athletes,” she adds.

The NCAA’s “October surprise” last year, a plan for $2,000 stipends for college football and men’s basketball players, first passed last fall. Then nearly 45 percent of the Division I schools voted to shelve it two months later because they didn’t know how to pay the money. Somehow the biggest athletic departments’ annual gross of $100-plus million was overlooked.

“I think the argument that college sports is a business and simply doesn’t have the money to pay athletes or to minimally pay out that stipend rings real hollow,” continues Staurowsky. “The stakes are getting higher and higher with suites, personal seat licenses, [and] a greater emphasis on making sure they fill those seats by using agencies used by professional franchises to market their programs.”

Every nook and cranny inside to names on virtually every outside brick, the Gophers football stadium resembles a Babel testament to commercialism. You see more ad signs today than championship banners inside The Barn, otherwise known as Williams Arena.

Sadly, the only outrage comes not from this commercialization, or even poor graduation rates, especially for Black players, but rather whether the team wins or not. “If [graduation rates] were such a high priority, then why [are] not 100,000 people boycotting these stadiums, saying it is an outrage that we are only graduating 46 percent of the basketball players and 60-some percent of football players?” Staurowsky asks.

Everyone instead is “in denial on all sides about why athletes are on campus,” she says. “There never has been a groundswell of outrage about the exploitation of these athletes from an educational perspective.”

Instead, she suggests a change in terminology: Rather than “student-athletes,” call them “athlete employees.” Players are allowed only 20 hours per week in athletic activities — practice, weight lifting, team meetings and such — but travel time away from classes due to away games isn’t calculated.

These are part-time work hours for regular students, even for those on scholarship, but scholarship players aren’t allowed to work for dough during the school year. If they were reclassified as university employees, then for those players who also want to pursue a degree, schools could provide them a “tuition waiver,” Staurowsky suggests.

Finally there’s the crystal-clear solution, says the professor: Pay the players. “I really do think this is possible,” concludes Staurowsky. “I don’t think the college sports system is going to collapse if we start to pay athletes.”

It would finally eliminate the decades-long myth about big-time college sports, and then everyone would rightly get paid.


Did you know…?

Which Big Ten school posted the lowest Black graduation rate? (Answer in next week’s “View.”)

Answer to last week’s question: What is the percentage of Black front-office personnel in WNBA franchises? According to the 2011 WNBA Racial and Gender Report Card, seven percent of team senior administration and 10 percent of other team administrative positions (not counting support staff) are Black.

However, the percentage of Black Minnesota Lynx front office personnel is zero.


Next: Staurowsky says today’s college athletic directors are more like CEOs. We asked the new Gophers AD his thoughts on the subject. 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to