Reading List: The Other Shame of College Athletics


The crises at Penn State threatens to eclipse the college football bowl season, but at least one writer identified a source of shame in college athletics far before anyone could pronounce Sandusky, and it was not a sex scandal — it was economic.  In a long and excellent essay in The Atlantic, author Taylor Branch details the way money has infiltrated some of the most respected universities in the nation, and sorts out the winners and losers in what is undeniably a huge and expansive business (hint: at this game, the athletes don’t often win).

As Branch points out, the United States is the only country in the world that combines the odd bedfellows of athletic apprenticeship for a professional sports career with institutions of higher learning.  The money involved, particularly for State schools who have seen their budgets cut, is staggering: last year the Southeastern Conference had over $1 billion in athletic receipts; the broadcast rights for the 2011 NCAA basketball tournament alone were worth $771 million, and Division I football programs, by themselves, pull in up to $80 million a year – in profits, not revenue.

Money, as we all know, matters.  Examining the core of this system, Branch writes a sentence to warm any undergraduate econ major’s heart: “The tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not.”

It’s a thought-provoking and challenging essay, and well worth reading – particularly if your choice is the fourth quarter of a lopsided Leftover Bowl between teams you have never seen play before.

Reading ListAlexander Ooms