Behind the Doc

Clash of mission, money in big-time sports is an age-old problem

Posted September 18, 2013

College $ports: #MissionorMoney, a WRAL documentary

Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned in the production of “College $ports: #MissionorMoney” is that the issues the documentary raises were issues raised about college sports nearly a hundred years ago.

#MissionorMoney  thumbnail College $ports: #missionormoney

A 1929 report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching also questioned the commercialization of college sports. The only thing that’s changed in all of that time is the money. College sports are now a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s the big money that prevents the concerns raised by the Carnegie Foundation report, and the ones raised by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics decades later, from seriously being addressed. Too many people involved in big-time college sports have a financial incentive to maintain the status quo.

Many reforms to big-time college sports have been talked about – from paying student athletes to eliminating athletic scholarships. Those would be tough choices to make, and it seems that every potential reform creates another potential problem.

But are the reforms solutions in search of a problem? What’s really wrong with big-time college sports anyway? People love it, and it has lots of positive benefits for colleges and universities beyond generating revenue.

One of the answers to that question lies with former star players who leave college without a degree, without a professional sports career and without much of a future. If our colleges and universities are not doing everything they can to help those young men earn a degree that will lead to a career outside of athletics then they are not fulfilling their missions and that is clearly a problem that needs a solution.


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  • Wheelman Sep 21, 2013

    If you have a student on an academic scholarship who is working with a professor in research, and the student helps develop a new drug, machine, material etc. That new thing is owned by the university and or the professor and they decide to form a business to sell this new thing, and will make millions off of it. Is the student entitled to any of the financial benefits resulting from their effort? The answer is no. Why should athletes be treated any different? They are paid to play in the form of a scholarship. Many of them could never afford the education otherwise. As for not getting a degree, that is their own fault, and the athletic departments spend a lot of time and money trying to help them get one. But, ultimately it is their responsibility to do the work required. If they are not capable of doing the work then they should not be there and that's another topic. I do think they should be paid for the use of their name, image etc. as you or I would.

  • Objective Scientist Sep 20, 2013

    A variety of comments... I agree with some, disagree with some. That collegiate sports has become a "sausage factory" is true to a large degree. That it is "disgusting" that the highest paid government official in almost every state is a football or basketball coach - is really beyond "disgusting" and makes NO SENSE whatsoever - and spare me jokes like the coach had a better year than the Chancellor/President or Governor. Paying the athletes "above the table"? Better than "under the table", but not acceptable in an institution of higher education! Any notion that athletes at a University should be considered "employees" and not students... NO WAY! Any notion that athletic programs are HUGE (millions/billions) "money makers" for the Universities - is patently PREPOSTEROUS!!! The money goes to pay all those "highest salaries in the state" coaches and other athletic program expenses - not for ANY other part of the Universities! I don't buy that it is not possible to change!

  • StunGunn Sep 18, 2013

    There's no easy answer to the sausage factory that collegiate sports has become. I'd rather see players paid above the table than under it. Put it out in the open, and call it what it is: Semi Pro sports. Offer an education, but I think many would pass on that offer as their only goal is to play pro ball. Unfortunately, so many pro athletes are broke in a few years.

  • rtend12 Sep 18, 2013

    Institutions of higher learning have no business running an entertainment industry. The highest paid government official in almost every state is a football or basketball coach - disgusting! These franchises should be broken off from the schools or dismantled altogether. It is clear they are huge distractions from the core mission of the University, and it's unclear what, if any, benefits they provide. Yes, there is big money swirling around these programs, but it goes back into supporting the programs themselves, or to fund non-spectator sports. There is absolutely no evidence that big-time sports have any positive effect on the overall financial health of the institution. Ridiculous!

  • tdouble232323 Sep 18, 2013

    Amateur sports is a 19th century concept. The *NONPROFIT* NCAA and University admins have banked off this nonsense for too long.

  • tdouble232323 Sep 18, 2013

    The idea that tuition/room & board is fair compensation in the age of several hundred million dollar TV contracts is preposterous. The NCAA and it's member institutions of course want the public to buy into that philosophy. Many do, however the tide is changing and many are opening their eyes to this extortion.

  • dwntwnboy2 Sep 18, 2013

    The players should either be paid by the college they play/work for or they should be allowed to pursue other avenues of income- like autographs etc that they are prevented from getting now. The universities make BILLIONS and the athletes make nothing, yet it's their talent, blood, sweat and tears that make the money for the school who profits.

About this Blog:

Documentary producer and writer Clay Johnson provides some behind-the-scenes insight into the production of WRAL documentaries.