Welcome to the college sports industrial complex.
(And, yes, I am part of the problem.)
Having attended three public universities, I revel in college sports. March Madness, in my opinion, should be a national holiday (just change Columbus Day to the first couple days of the NCAA tournament). Tate to Holloway will forever be tattooed in my Hawkeye head--and heart. And, like many of you, I have devoted serious time--and serious cash--to following my college sports teams.
That said, while I regale in the latest Hawkeye (or Tar Heel) heroics, college sports is somewhat of a guilty pleasure. Please note: this is more than your typical "take a sledgehammer to the NCAA" column... although, truthfully, I wouldn’t object to that. This is an adult realization--after shedding my Hawkeye fandom--that the current college sports model is flawed.
Where do I begin?
College sports, now more than ever, is big business--from the palatial stadiums to bloated television contracts. In 2013, sponsors spent over $1 billion advertisements during March Madness. ESPN paid $80 million alone to broadcast the 2015 Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, Jordan Bohannon, after hitting one dagger three after another in the Big Dance, got a rug. And, because of the NCAA’s limitless generosity (please note my sarcasm), free wifi.
At the same time, we--the NCAA, Joe Q. Hawkeye--revel in the pretense of amateurism. Or, perhaps, adopt a fortress mentality: see no evil, hear no evil. We would rather ignore the uncomfortable--even unsavory--realities tarnishing big time college sports: the shoe companies’ stranglehold, the concussion risks, players’ academic shortcomings, the power differential between the NCAA and its unpaid interns (aka players).
While I wrap myself in my latest Hawkeye hoodie, I don’t have an easy answer to these systemic flaws. I do, of course, have some thoughts--namely that players deserve compensation and that the NCAA should provide lifetime health care for all of its football players. It is richly ironic (some might say tragically so) that Kinnick Stadium and UIHC adjoin each other yet former college football players often struggle to receive the health care they so desperately need. This Chicago Tribune article highlights the health care issues, many related to brain trauma, that torment former college football players. But, hey, we’ll give you a framed football--or basketball--jersey for your years of blood, sweat, and tears (and the occasional concussion) and call it even. What do you say, student athlete?
This column might seem biting--almost as if I have a grudge against college sports and/or the NCAA. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love college sports, from college football’s pageantry to March Madness’s ritualized craziness (who doesn’t love a 15 over a 2 seed?). Some of my fondest moments are celebrating Hawkeye victories--and drinking over Hawkeye stumbles. But even as a diehard Hawkeye homer--and unabashed college sports fan, it is tougher to ignore--and dismiss--the realities blotting college sports: one that the NCAA and its powers-that-be would prefer to sweep under that Jordan Bohannon rug.