In the inaugural post in this space on March 14, this writer lamented the many problems with college sports. The latest scandal du jour, involving payments to superstar high school recruits, apparently triggered an FBI investigation, prompting the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to appoint a Commission on College Basketball led by highly respected former Secretary of State (and Stanford University provost) Condoleezza Rice; the Commission has issued its report.
As Wall Street Journal writer Jason Gay said, the commission “offers some wise words but doesn’t go nearly far enough.” The primary issue is that the NCAA interferes in a competitive labor market for basketball and football players, dictating that their compensation must be limited to essentially room, board, tuition fees, and a small amount for other expenses. The big financial gains from having extraordinary athletic talent accrue not mainly to talented players, but to their adult supervisors coaches, athletic directors, etc., who often earn salaries vastly higher than their nominal bosses, the university president.
A good basketball player at a top school probably receives compensation less than 10 % the revenue he would have received in a competitive labor market like that prevailing for the National Basketball Association (NBA). I once estimated that on the eve of the Civil War, slaves typically received 30 to 40 % what they would have received in a free market environment. While it is a stretch to call the exploitation of college athletes the equivalent of slavery, human trafficking or even indentured servitude, it is substantial and reduces public respect for universities.