". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


The Hollowness of Major College Sports Programs

March 11, 2024

From campus-wide anti-Semitism to post-modern deconstructionism, many college and universities nationwide have become the playgrounds of liberalism, anti-Americanism, and absurd courses (“Latinx Sexual Dissidence and Guerrilla Translation,” anyone?). It’s time we were honest about these things, and about another unpleasant reality that has been ignored too long — what’s become of college sports.

Most of us think of college sports with a kind of hometown loyalty. We have a sense of ownership, since the young people playing are wearing the colors of our schools and, we like to believe, many of them come from our home states.

This myth has been busted for good in the wake of the 2023-24 college football season.

Within a few days of losing to Michigan in a contest for the national football championship, Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer was off to become head coach at Alabama and a $10 million annual salary (after all, he was “making only $4.2 million last season at Washington”). Eighteen team members of the Huskies’ team have since entered the so-called portal to chase “better” opportunities. So much for loyalty to one’s school or even team.

College sports have become a mercenary affair. In 2021, the Supreme Court “ruled that these athletes could indeed enter into NIL (name, image, and likeness) deals, whereby they could endorse products or sell their autographs.” As to the portal, it is “an online database meant to streamline the first step of an athlete’s transfer process.”

As reported by sports journalist Victoria Moorwood, “Athletes tell their current school’s compliance office they have decided to explore a transfer, and the compliance office then has two business days to enter that athlete’s name into the portal.” Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of players have transferred from one school to another.

Now, Dartmouth’s men’s basketball team is trying to unionize. While the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will review this effort, the college is (rightfully) resisting the effort. In its appeal, Dartmouth wrote, “athletic pursuit is part of the educational experience. Classifying these students as employees simply because they play basketball is as unprecedented as it is inaccurate.”

For the record, I’m against college athletes unionizing. However, the indisputable fact is that major college sports are a big business. The recent demise of the Pacific 12 athletic conference was all about one thing —money. Oregon State University professor Susan Shaw put it succinctly: “TV rights and cold, hard cash have dismantled the Pac-12.” She makes the point that virtually all of the other NCAA sports at schools throughout the country are treated like poor relations when it comes to funding. “Ignoring these sports might make sense if a university were a business,” Shaw writes, “but, as an institution of higher education, a university has a unique responsibility to its students, and student-athletes are just that — students.”

I am not so naïve as to not recognize that for many young men and women, doing well in a sport is a way up and out of a life of struggle and frustration, and I understand that earning extra income from signing an autograph or endorsing a product is a perfectly valid thing. Additionally, even if they don’t make the pros in a major sport, these young people have the opportunity of earning a degree in a remunerative field. Yet this benefit seems ancillary to the hundreds of colleges and universities that seek to profit — enormously — from what their “scholar-athletes” achieve.

One study shows that with respect to Division I NCAA football, “the average school sees a profit of over $8 million (while) those in the SEC and Big Ten have close to $20 million in football profit annually.” The now nearly defunct Pacific 12 Conference ended because of the lure of greater income. Upon joining the Big 10 — a historically midwestern conference — Washington alone “will get a guaranteed $30 million a year, which will increase by $1 million a year from 2025 through 2030.”

One of my sons plays rugby for a major university. He recently was named to a regional college all-star team. He and his teammates get little financial support from their school, certainly not scholarship assistance. They play for love of the game and the camaraderie they enjoy with one another. In contrast, one of my son’s friends has a full ride as a member of their school’s NCAA Division I football team. He is a third-stringer and doesn’t even suit-up for the games. He sits on the bench.

I have loved college sports, but this love is much diminished. For roughly four decades, my family had season tickets to University of Washington football, men’s basketball and, later, women’s basketball. Six of us have attended Washington for undergrad or graduate (or both) studies. But now, as college football has become little more than a big — and hollow — business, this year’s national championship was, for me, a last Huskies hurrah.

Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.