Chapter 5

D. Siegel

Athletics and Education

The Union of Athletics With Educational Institutions

The yoking of athletics and education in the United States today has become so deeply intertwined that many of us assume that this relationship is perfectly harmonious and entirely appropriate. To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, people tend to think of things as being entirely natural if they have existed for a reasonably long period of time. Intercollegiates have been around for nearly 150 years, and consequently it has been a part of American education during our lives. Thus, for many of us athletics seems to be a natural part of what goes on in educational institutions. Furthermore, some of the most prominent universities in the United States including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Rutgers, and the University of Chicago were in the vanguard of developing and promoting intercollegiate athletic programs. This approbation by the elite further reinforces the bond between academics and athletics giving legitimacy to sport as an important component of American education. Yet, there have been and continue to be critics of this marriage, with one observer expressing a commonly perceived viewpoint:

What in the hell is a commercial entertainment enterprise doing on a university campus. Big-time intercollegiate sport is a business enterprise...functioning as part of a cartel, and employing athletes . . . who are paid slave wages. (Sage, 1979, p. 189).

Nonetheless, today, as in the past, many educational institutions are recognized for the success they have experienced in the athletic domain. Notre Dame, Florida State, Ohio State, Stanford, and Pennsylvania State Universities are readily associated with football, and the University of Tennessee, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Stanford, and Georgetown Universities with basketball. Yet these institutions are recognized as equally great for their academic achievements, of which most people probably know little. Many other schools have sought athletic success in order to produce instant name recognition, both on the college and secondary levels.

A reasonable question to ponder though is why athletics, philosophically thought to be a peripheral and extracurricular activity, became such a prominent and central force in higher education in America? Thousands of people attend games on a regular basis, millions view them on television, and hundreds bet on their outcomes. Coaches in high profile programs typically earn more money than University presidents, and several times more than typical professors. Athletes are recruited with much greater zeal than students who are acclaimed for their scholarship. Athletic budgets are often in the millions, and are typically much larger than for the largest academic departments. As well, stadiums and field houses with accompanying training rooms are among the most costly facilities on campuses, rivaling or exceeding expenditures for state of the art laboratories. Is it possible to rationally understand how and why the athletic enterprise has become such an integral part of an environment originally designed to promote traditional education in the arts and sciences?

Unfortunately, there are no simple or clear cut answers to such questions. Athletics have evolved over a long period of time, and program development has not always followed a clear philosophical rationale. Seemingly, a brief historical review of how athletic programs began and were nurtured on American campuses will provide a basis for better understanding where they stand today, and the major athletic-academic issues that colleges and universities face. Among these are the traditional problems regarding: (a) player recruitment, (b) the conflict of being a student and being an athlete, (c) pressures to finance athletics at the expense of academics, (d) athletics as a public relations tool to recruit students and win support from financial supporters, (e) equity for women's athletic programs, and (f) the appropriate mechanisms to develop, monitor and enforce rules.

Brief History of the Beginning of Intercollegiate Sports


According to Lucas and Smith (1978), in 1850 the importance of athletics on American campuses was of no consequence, but by the early 1900s it had become their most important social function. Consequently, they believe that an awareness of this period is essential for understanding how intercollegiate athletics have come to be.Essentially, this was a period during which the civil war occurred, industrialization of the country was taking place, and people were moving from an agrarian society to one which was city oriented. In fact, by 1880 the United States became the number one industrial country in the world, having been in 7th place only a few decades earlier. With this change people became more interdependent in their recreational interests, and more sophisticated in building and standardizing facilities for play and spectating. Some of the activities popular during this period included: baseball, bicycling, bowling, boxing, cross country running, football, golf, horseracing, pedestrianism (distance running), rowing, rugby, skiing, soccer, squash, swimming, tennis, track and field, volleyball, wrestling, and yachting (Betts, 1974). As well, an information and transportation infrastructure was created which made it possible for competitors to travel to different venues, and for results of contests to be communicated to interested supporters (e.g., the telegraph was first used in the 1840s and newspapers were increasingly published and read). As important were the changes in mentality taking place in society resulting from increased wealth that allowed a middle class of people more time for recreational pursuits. With this also came increased organization and commercialization in sport.

Lucas and Smith (1978) emphasize the importance of the Civil War in the development of intercollegiate sports. They convey that the war created a need for trained military personnel, and to develop the means to train officers the government elected to support the creation of colleges which would have this as one of their goals, along with educating larger numbers of lower and middle class students. In 1862 congress passed the Morrill Act, creating land grant colleges which were funded from the sale of federal government lands. As expected, this provided educational opportunities for many individuals who would not have been able to attend an institution of higher learning. With these students came a broader range of interests than had been typical of the elite group who had frequented colleges in the past. As conveyed, the war also brought large numbers of young men together who participated in and observed each others games. When the war ended, the trend continued.

Embedded in this dynamic period was higher education. According to Lucas and Smith (1978), mid-nineteenth century colleges were typically church affiliated liberal arts institutions which focused on teaching classical studies and preparing students for the ministry, law, or the professoriat. As well, institutions were typically headed by clergymen who enforced a rigid behavioral code which prohibited such activities as smoking, drinking, dancing, and card playing. Absence from campus required presidential approval and, in many institutions, compulsory chapel was an expectation. From general accounts one can surmise that colleges were quite paternalistic and somewhat removed from the great changes affecting the larger society.

As might be expected, students often rebelled against such a narrow and stifling environment. Not only did they become involved in direct acts of insurgency such as disrupting classes, destroying college property, and physically assaulting professors, but they began to create an extracurriculum to provide for interests that were not being served by the formal classical course of study. The extracurriculum included the forming of literary and debate societies, as well as musical groups, and college newspapers. Athletics were also included in this array of student run and financed activities.

Interestingly, the first intercollegiate athletic contest was partly a commercial endeavor. The Superintendent of the Boston, Concord, and Montreal Railroad, interested in generating business, offered to pay all expenses, and provide an eight day vacation for crew members if Yale would row against Harvard on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire (Lewis, 1967). The event took place in August and drew approximately 1000 spectators who saw Harvard defeat Yale in a race lasting about 14 minutes. In 1859, the first intercollegiate baseball game was played in Pittsfield, Massachusetts between Amherst and Williams Colleges, while the first intercollegiate football game was played between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869.

Lucas and Smith (1978) make the point that in the beginning intercollegiate teams were run by student selected captains whose role was similar to that of coach. He was responsible for creating training rules for the team, strategizing, and selecting players to start. Interestingly, if a team was successful, it was likely that the captain would become the campus hero since he was viewed as responsible for the team’s fortunes, and for bringing it distinction.

As might be expected, the popularity of intercollegiate athletics grew at a rapid pace, and with it’s growth came larger schedules, greater travel, longer practice hours, and the need for uniforms and equipment. All of this, of course, required more money, which was raised by students through what became known as the athletic association, an organization made up of athletes and non-athletes, which supported teams financially, and helped to take care of facilities and administer contests. Money was also raised from fund raising drives.

Lucas and Smith (1978), make the important point that although athletics began as a recreational diversion, it was not long before winning became very important. They hypothesize that as in industry where the Puritan work ethic prevailed, it filtered down to athletic competition, with success becoming synonymous with winning. The increasing need to win was accompanied by a host of dubious practices including: (a) using non-students to compete, (b) recruiting students primarily for their athletic prowess, (c) recruiting athletes from other institutions to play for another college, (d) paying students in various ways to play (e.g., providing room and board, providing vacations, and allowing them to sell and keep the money from programs), (e) hiring professional coaches to replace student captains, and (f) spying (i.e., scouting) on the opposition. A more professionalized operation also called for purchasing better equipment, traveling first class, and having a better training table. All of these changes increased the costs of fielding teams, which in turn required seeking new sources of revenue. In addition to athletic association funds, alumni were solicited for donations, and gate receipts began to play an increasingly important role in financial viability. As in the present day, the creation and maintenance of such programs was costly, and income was highly dependent on winning. Consequently, winning became increasingly important as a program moved along the path from obscurity to prominence.

As one might surmise, a system so predicated on winning, with little or no regulatory control from college authorities was bound to generate problems. Primary among these was the amount of time, travel, and energy that students devoted to sports in contrast to that allocated to academics. As well, a general lack of financial responsibility, often resulted in teams generating debts that they were unable to repay. Many observers also questioned the lack of ethical and sportsmanlike behavior that often was associated with a win at any cost mentality. Student spectators were also often involved in betting on games, and partying to extremes at rallies supporting their teams. Many faculty also objected to the glorification of athletic stars, since they viewed such deification as distracting students from fully appreciating scholars and their work.

With all the problems associated with athletics one wonders why colleges did not simply abolish them? One argument used against their eradication was that despite all their problems, conditions on campus were actually better with them than without them. In contrast to the pre-athletic era during which institutions were viewed as more repressive and student disorders more common, the diversion of athletics had, to some extent, distracted students from the destructive and mischievous behavior characteristic of earlier times. The idea was that athletics provided a type of catharsis for dissipating excessive energy. Another observation, closer to justifying athletics as an adjunct to education, was that involvement in vigorous competitive physical activity was important not only for health reasons, but because it provided a medium through which men could develop attributes such as discipline, courage, self-reliance, responsibility, and leadership.

But, perhaps the greatest support for athletics came from college presidents who were motivated to grow their institutions. As pointed out by Chu (1989), the leadership of colleges during the 1800s was changing from individuals who were clergy or professional educators, to individuals with business acumen. These presidents were also responsible to boards whose members were also changing and were increasingly becoming dominated by people from the business world. As mentioned previously, the world outside of academia was changing rapidly and many of the more conservative and restrictive colleges had difficulty adjusting to a clientele that wanted more than a traditional scholastic education . Consequently, prospective students sought out what they thought to be the most progressive and interesting institutions, leaving those failing to modernize struggling for survival. In fact, unlike today, the need for a college education in the 19th Century was not obvious, since upward mobility could just as easily be achieved through apprenticeship in a trade. For many, enrolling at college was perceived not only as a waste of time because of what was viewed as an irrelevant curriculum, but it was also seen as a period during which potential income from employment was lost. Thus, responding to changing market forces became increasingly important in attracting students and maintaining financial solvency.

College presidents saw the need for marketing their institutions and sought ways to increase their school's viability and prestige. An interesting example of this process may be found in the history of the University of Chicago (Lawson, & Ingham, 1980). William Harper was given the task in 1890 of building the University to a world class institution starting with a grant of $600,000 from John D. Rockefeller. From 1896 to 1909 enrollments increased from 1,815 to 5,500. As part of his master plan, Harper hired Amos Alonzo Stagg, one of the most prominent football coaches of the period, to improve Chicago's team and make the University competitive with better known institutions. The football program and the University prospered together during and after Harper’s presidency. Interestingly, though, once Chicago had attained a reputation as a first rate University, had a large student base, and the financial resources to support its objectives, President Robert Maynard Hutchins in 1929 decided to dismantle the football program that Stagg had built. He argued that the University was about intellectual activity not big-time football. Of course, Hutchins had the liberty to be more idealistic than Harper, or less well financially endowed contemporaries, given the financial security associated with John D. Rockefeller’s contributions of some $34.7 million dollars.

As student run programs grew in complexity problems also continued to increase. These included, but were not limited to students taking extended time away from campus for contests, unsportmanlike behavior during games, recruiting irregularities, coaches who were poor institutional representatives, financial deficits, and brutality associated with sports like football. It was not long before institutions began to be involved with the regulation of these student run programs. Lucas and Smith (1978) convey that by 1900 three models of oversight existed with one model having student, alumni and faculty representation, a second with student and alumni representation, and a third which had a faculty board that set policies which students were obligated to follow.

But the most profound change in intercollegiate athletics resulted from the formation of conferences. The Big Ten, created in 1895, is a good example of how associating with other institutions led to the creation of more standardized regulations for the purpose of creating a more level playing field. Conference rules prohibited the use of non-students and coaches as players. Furthermore, participants were required to be academically viable, and to receive no compensation for their participation. As well, students who transferred from another institution and wished to compete were required to sit out a half a year before they could play. The Big Ten used a model of presidential and faculty control, which other institutions and conferences would soon follow.

An important theme throughout these developments was that athletics programs were clearly not viewed as an important educational endeavor, but rather something to be tolerated, and regulated because of their popularity and importance as a public relations tool. Consequently, programs were required to maintain financial solvency from fund raising, and from their commercial value. Had they been viewed as an adjunct to an institution’s educational mission, funding would presumably have come from a school’s operating budget. This precedent for keeping athletics separate from other college programs may have been responsible for their prodigious growth and increasing commercialization. As well, it may also be an important historical element in guaranteeing sustained abuses over the years since the necessity of generating income places a premium on winning, which, in turn, may place extraordinary pressures on coaches to circumvent rules.

Despite the clearly extracurricular status of athletics, there were those who believed that they did have redeeming educational value. Chu (1988) points out that the model of English "public schools" which incorporated sports into its curriculum, served as a model for those who held that education required more than simply molding the mind. As well, at the beginning of the 20th century philosophers John Dewey and Charles Pierce were advocating the importance of yoking thought and action, while psychologist James Watson was demonstrating the importance of the physical environment in shaping behavior. Generalizing from these ideas some advocates claimed that sport experiences provided a potential for students to acquire important character attributes (Williams, 1930). The discipline, responsibility, teamwork, mental fortitude, and assertiveness necessary for success in sports was believed to generalize to other activities and result in personal fulfillment and national vigor. Guttmann (1988) also makes the point that such a view was conveyed by Theodore Roosevelt who advocated participation in rough sports for the purpose of building manly character. Whether or not athletic involvement actually served this purpose remains problematic. Nonetheless, the philosophical rationale for its promotion on educational grounds by those interested in supporting it against critics was and is quite compelling.

The Creation of the NCAA

Perhaps the culminating event in the institutionalization of intercollegiate athletics was the creation of the NCAA. The motivation for its inception resulted from the commercialization, brutality, and propensity for serious injuries experienced by football players during the period 1880 - 1905. To illustrate the rising popularity and commercialization of the game, Lucas and Smith (1978) point out that in the early 1880s Yale's income from football was approximately $2,800, but by the early 1890s it had risen to over $50,000, and by 1903 it had reached $106,000. This sum represented one-eighth of the total income of Yale University! At Harvard, receipts for football had gone from $11,000 in the 1890s to $72,000 in 1904.

Although commercialization of football spread across the country quickly during the late 19th century, it was the brutality, injuries and death that ultimately led to reform and control. According to Guttmann (1988), after an unusually violent contest between Harvard and Yale in 1904, Harvard decided to drop football. It was at this point that President Theodore Roosevelt, a Harvard graduate of 1880, stepped in and convened a conference of the Presidents of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton at the White House. His intention was to explore ways to preserve football, a game which he personally admired because of its strenuous nature and character building potential.

While Roosevelt brought attention to the need for reform, it is the meeting in New York in 1905, convened by Chancellor of New York University, Henry McCracken, which really set reform in motion. McCracken wanted either to abolish or reform the sport, and was partially motivated by the death of a Union College player against NYU in the last game of the 1905 season. Presidents from thirteen colleges met in an initial meeting (NCAAa, 1998) in early December and decided to create a new football rule's committee, and to convene a national meeting of institutions at the end of the month. On December 28, in New York City, the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS) was founded by 62 members, but it was not until January of 1906 that recalcitrant members from the old rules committee, led by Yale’s Walter Camp, agreed to participate in the association (Lucas and Smith, 1978). In 1910 this group first called itself the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The creation of the NCAA was a significant event in the evolution of intercollegiate athletics since it not only reformed football, but centralized sport governance, and clearly established institutional, as opposed to student control, over athletic competition.

However, over the years, although the intentions for athletic reform have been honorable, practices have tended to be otherwise. With the evolution of "big time" football into a commercial and social enterprise on campus, pressures were sufficient to prompt coaches, and indirectly, administrators, to do what was necessary to field winning teams. According to Rader (1983), between 1921 and 1930 attendance at collegiate football games doubled, while gate receipts tripled. Part of the reason for this was that the game not only attracted students and alumni but came to transcend the institution by symbolically representing states, regions, ethnic groups, religions, and ideologies. Stadiums were build, some with seating capacities exceeding 70,000, publicity offices created, and schedules having intersectional play assembled to stimulate even larger audiences. Rader (1983) notes that in 1924 Notre Dame traveled over 10,500 miles to play prominent teams across the country.

As in the earlier years athletes were recruited for teams who were marginal students, and then treated more like professionals than the amateurs which they were alleged to be. As well, large crowds yielded large gate receipts, and the spectacle of the game and events surrounding the game, made many wonder about whether the mission of Universities had been diverted from teaching and scholarship to fielding winning football teams. Perhaps, the Carnegie Foundation Report of 1929 (Savage et al., 1929) provided the most comprehensive analysis of intercollegiate athletics to date, examining issues raised by critics. The report identified many of the problems found in intercollegiate sports during that period, focusing on the uneasy relationship of having commercial and intellectual enterprises so closely linked. Items to which the report brought attention were: (a) the recruitment of players who were weak students, (b) the inordinate time demands placed on training, (c) the special treatment accorded athletes, and (d) the professional coach. The report argued that it would be impossible for institutions to self-regulate themselves since what one school did was dependent on what others were doing. However, it then concluded that college presidents and their faculties should provide the necessary leadership for institutions to exhibit self-restraint.

In the final analysis athletics’ programs developed from student interests, not educational philosophy. Although they were problematic because of a variety of abuses including what faculty saw as a diversion of student energy and interest away from academic pursuits, they were too popular and important to an institutions well-being for elimination. Indeed, athletics helped colleges to attract students, win alumni support, captivate the surrounding community, and capture the attention and good-will of state legislatures that funded public institutions. As well, they were seen as a mechanism that brought increasingly fragmented campuses together. Many traditions and rituals became associated with athletic contests including pep rallies, college songs, marching bands, and homecoming. These all contributed to building an "esprit de corps" among a diverse student body and other constituencies important to an institution’s support and survival. Nonetheless, the cost of maintaining such an enterprise on campus was having to live with a quasi-commercial enterprise which, in many cases, emphasized "athlete" over "student" in the "student-athlete" equation.


According to Lucas and Smith (1978), intercollegiate competition for women was not an issue in the mid 19th century because very few attended college. But as part of the 19th century woman’s rights movement, more females opted for a college education by the 1870s. A prevalent belief, however, was that women were not up to the rigors of doing college work, and would consequently break down physically and psychologically. Consequently, physical activity, first in the form of gymnastics program, was viewed as an ideal way for women to build themselves up for the academic challenges that lay ahead.

In contrast to intercollegiate sports for men, woman's programs evolved in a carefully controlled fashion under the guidance of female physical educators (Gerber, Felshin, Berlin, & Wyrick, 1975). The classical pyramid model shown in Figure 1, exemplifies the extent to which forethought and organization permeated sports programs during the late 19th century and well into the 20th century. The basic philosophy was that the most essential program was instructional which served a large number of students who varied across a wide spectrum of skill. For those seeking lower level competition, a program of intramurals was offered. Individuals interested in more intense competition could become involved in intercollegiate athletics. However, as the pyramid infers, an institution was responsible for first developing the base. Only when it was well led and funded did the intramural program get attention. Athletics then followed the establishment of a sound intramural program.



Figure 1. The Pyramid Model for Woman's Sports

As conveyed, sport, like the gymnastics programs which proceeded it, was viewed as a means to promote health and grace, and to strengthen students for the rigors of academic work. It was also believed that involvement in team sports promoted important social values, while engaging in individual sports would provide the ability to continue with physical activity after graduation. Activities found in instructional programs during the 19th and early 20th century included archery, basketball, crew, cycling, fencing, field hockey, golf, horseback riding, lacrosse, rowing, swimming, track and field, and volleyball, (Spears, 1973).

It is important to acknowledge that much of the competition that occurred was within rather than between institutions. Gerber et al. (1975) make the point that many writers dismiss women's sports during this period because they were characterized by interclass, inter-dorm, or inter-sorority competitions. As well, intercollegiates were typified by sports days, play days, inter-class-interschool, telegraphic meets, and varsity contests. This seemingly large array of forms, contained mostly within the walls of institutions, under the guidance of physical educators made women's athletics not only less of a spectacle, but less problematic than those organized and run by male students. Clearly, the focus was on the educational, developmental, and recreational benefits of sport than on its commercial and public relations aspects.

The first women’s intercollegiate competitions were in basketball, and held in 1896 between the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford , and the University of Washington and Ellensburg Normal School (Gerber et al., 1975). It appeared that early in the century seasons were fairly restricted with schools which competed having less than a10 game schedule. As well, it was not uncommon for an institution to have an intercollegiate schedule one year and not have one the next.

Furthermore, the form of competition was often different than that followed by men. Concern by female physical educators for involving more students resulted in some schools following an interclass-interschool model. Here, intramural-interclass competition would first produce a winning team that would then go on to play against their class counterparts at another institution. This followed the pyramid of having intercollegiates first follow intramurals. Another variation was the telegraphic meet. In this format standardized conditions were created on different campuses for activities such as archery, bowling, and riflery and results were communicated between schools via telegraph. The telegraphic meet provided an opportunity for intercollegiate competition without the need for being away from campus. As well, such activities were conducive to greater numbers of students being involved.

Other variations of interschool competition during the first half of the twentieth century were play days and sports days. Play days involved students visiting another campus where they would be assigned to a team with students from other schools to participate in a series of recreational and sports activities. Sports days allowed intact teams from a school to compete against intact teams from other institutions, but often teams did not know ahead of time in which activities they would be competing. As well, winning was de-emphasized, and scores were often not even kept.

Clearly, intercollegiate athletics for women in the late 19th Century and early part of the 20th Century had an entirely different flavor than that found in men’s programs. In essence, educators were in control, and wished to remain in control. Although they believed that sport was good for women, they also believed that programs should be available for all students, not just a few "elite" varsity participants. As well, they believed that competition which was too intense would produce injury to both the body and mind, thus control and moderation were essential. The essence of this philosophy was embodied by sixteen statements produced in 1923 at a conference devoted to athletics and physical recreation for women and girls (Schoedler, 1924), and, with the exception of the AAU, was endorsed by virtually all groups involved with women's sports. While much of the philosophy upon which statements were built appears to be consistent with earlier beliefs about the unique needs of women, much of what was stated also seemed to be a reaction to abuses found in men’s programs. For example, statements included: (a) protecting programs from exploitation by spectators or gaining a commercial advantage for an institution, (b) emphasizing sportsmanship and minimizing the need to win, (c) placing control in the hands of properly qualified individuals, and (d) discouraging competitions that require travel. The fear of intercollegiates for women becoming similar to that of men's programs was further encapsulated by Mabel Lee, first woman to become president of the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. She studied the issues during the 1920s and 1930s (Lee, 1931), and concluded that if intercollegiates could be conducted as a purely amateur endeavor and not as men’s intercollegiates have been conducted, there would be less resistance to its development by directors of physical education. This restrictive philosophy prevailed until the 1950s and 1960s.

During the middle of the 20th century, intercollegiate competitive programs began to increase in popularity despite their lack of support from a more conservative leadership. According to Gerber et al. (1975), in 1966 the Commission on Intercollegiate Sports for Women (i.e., CIAW) was organized by the Division of Girls and Woman's Sports (i. e., DGWS), which for the first time promoted national championships. While somewhat of a departure from the previous philosophy of limiting competition to more local or intramural events, the intent of providing opportunities for all in an environment which promoted personal development rather than mass spectacle was maintained. Championships were sponsored in golf, tennis, gymnastics, track and field, swimming, badminton, and volleyball. The CIAW was replaced by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women in 1972 (i. e., AIAW), which became not only the organizer of national championships, but a governing body which had the power to set rules, and punish violations. However, by 1980, the NCAA had taken over women's intercollegiates, and shortly thereafter, the AIAW ceased to exist. Today, women's and men's programs have become indistinguishable with regard to their philosophies, organization and administration.

Athletic Issues

In examining whether or not intercollegiate athletics, on balance has had a positive or negative impact on institutions of higher learning, one must first acknowledge that athletic programs, like the schools they represent, vary greatly. Some programs are small, participant focused, receive little media exposure and generate no income, while others appear to be large commercial endeavors with professional facilities, national media coverage, and operating budgets in the millions. Because of the diversity in philosophy and associated program implementation, three competitive divisions have been established by the NCAA. These are primarily determined by the number of teams an institution must sponsor, playing schedule requirements, minimum spectator attendance at football games, and whether athletic scholarships are awarded.

In Division I institutions are required to have seven teams for men and seven for women (or six for men and eighth for women). As well, there must be two team sports for each gender, and each gender must have a team in each of the three season (i. e., Fall, Winter, Spring). Excluding basketball and football, teams must play 100% of their minimum number of games against Division 1 opponents, and 50% of games above the minimum number must be played against Division 1 teams. Men’s and women’s basketball teams must play all but two of their contests against Division 1 opponents, and men must play at least one third of their games in their home arena. In Division 1, football is further sectioned into 1-A and 1-AA. Division 1-A schools must play at least 60% of their games against 1-A opponents, and demonstrate their ability to attract a high level of spectatorship.The following criteria must be met for Division 1-A status:

  1. The institution shall have averaged more than 17,000 in paid attendance per home game in the immediate past four-year period, or
  2. The stadium utilized regularly for the institution's home games during the football seasons being evaluated shall contain a minimum of 30,000 permanent seats. Further the institution shall have averaged more than 17,00 in paid attendance per home football game for games played in that stadium at least one year during the immediate past four-year period, or
  3. Be in a conference in which at least six conference members sponsor football and more than half of football schools meet the attendance criterion" (NCAA, 1998).

To be classified in Division 1-AA in football schools need to play more than 50% of their games against I-A or I-AA opponents, but do not need to meet attendance requirements (NCAA, 1998).

In Division II, schools need only sponsor four sports for men and a minimum of four sports for women, and have at least two team sports for each gender. In addition, there must be a team for each gender in each of the three seasons (NCAA, 1998a). Furthermore, men’s and women’s basketball teams must play at least 50% of their games against Division II or Division I opponents. Men’s football teams can include Division 1-A and 1-AA opponents in their 50% count. In basketball, 50% of games must also be against Division II or I opponents. There are no scheduling requirements for teams other than football and basketball. As well there are no attendance requirements for football or arena game requirements for basketball.

Both Divisions I and II may offer athletic scholarships ( also known as counters or head counts) which can include tuition, fees, room, board, and books. However, a difference exists between divisions in the number of awards that may be granted in a sport. Division 1 is permitted more scholarships in basketball, and significantly more in football. For example, Division 1-A football is permitted 85 scholarships, while Division II football may allocate only 36 scholarships. In Division I basketball , men are allotted 13 scholarships and women 15. In Division II basketball, men and women are each permitted 10 scholarships. In general, Division I is also permitted more scholarship awards than Division II across remaining sports (NCAA, 1998; 1998a). Consequently, Division I programs are clearly permitted to spend more (i. e., minimum of 50% of maximum allowable in each sport) to attract a greater number of highly skilled athletes than Division II counterparts (i.e., no requirement for financial aid). As well, football and basketball are set-off in Division 1 from other sports by allowing them to have a higher percentage of scholarship athletes.

Division III, like Division II, must offer at least four sports for men and four for women. In addition, each gender must have two team sports, with at least one sport for each sex in each of the three seasons. An additional requirement is that football and men’s basketball teams must play at least 50% of their games against NCAA Division III members, or institutions that do not grant athletics scholarships. There are no scheduling requirements for other sports other than playing a minimum number of contests. In Division III, athletes may receive financial aid based on need and academic prowess (NCAA, 1998h).

Examining philosophies across divisions (NCAA Manual, 1998), all either state explicitly, or infer implicitly, that academic excellence and opportunity is a primary objective for individuals participating in intercollegiates. Division I then mentions that member schools strive for regional and national prominence in athletics, and in so doing, attempt to serve participants, the student body, faculty-staff, and alumni. Additionally, Division I acknowledges the importance of its programs to the community, area, state and nation. Division I also states that their athletics programs attempt to be self-supporting by producing income, presumably from football and basketball, that can then support the entire athletics program.

The Division II philosophy mirrors that of Division I, except that the scope of its aspirations seem to be a bit smaller. Division II also recognizes the importance of its programs to the campus community, but appears to limit its general public appeal to the state level. Division II also notes that it believes in the principle of athletic scholarship, but on a more modest level than Division I.

Division III philosophy is clearly different from those of Divisions I and II. It places emphasis on the importance of athletics as an educational medium for participants, and explicitly devalues its importance as entertainment for others, although it does recognize that it may be of interest to students, alumni, and institutional personnel. As well, regional competition and conference championships are primarily emphasized, although national championships are also a goal. The philosophy further states that athletes should be treated no differently than other students, and consequently no athletic scholarships are permitted. Finally, Division III proposes that athletics programs, as an educational endeavor, should be financed along with other academic programs through an institution’s general operating budget.

Clearly, intercollegiate athletics is not one thing, but a mixture of different philosophies and practices. Probably, little would be said about it if all institutions ascribed to the Division III philosophy, since there would be little need for high pressure recruiting, keeping players eligible, winning, media attention, bowl games, final fours and producing a large amount of revenue to cover extensive expenditures. In contrast to the hoopla and mass hysteria characterizing Division I programs, Division III, which actually comprises most NCAA schools (DI = 32%, DII = 27%, D3= 41%, NCAA, 1998c), is viewed as somewhat of an anomaly (e.g., see Looney, 1994). Indeed, the historical thread which joins the birth of men’s intercollegiates with its present day form is found predominantly in Division I, and to a lesser extent in Division II. Philosophically, and operationally, programs have not, and are not, just about the participants, and their educational development. As clearly stated, programs strive to attain national recognition, and in so doing, generate enough income to support their large budgets. On the other hand, Division III philosophy comes closest historically to the development of women’s sports. Clearly, such programs had a strong educational philosophy which promoted an exclusive focus on participants, with no responsibility or interest in providing entertainment for spectators or generating income.

Educational Benefits of Participating in Athletics

Since all three divisions claim, in one way or another, that education is a primary rationale for their existence one would seemingly be curious to determine how well this objective is actually being met. Of course, this is not an easy thing to assess since education can mean any one of a number of things. It could mean the acquisition of knowledge and skills that a participant gets directly about a sport. It could mean the types of things athletes learn from participation that can be allegedly transferred to other activities such as discipline, perseverance, anxiety management, setting and fulfilling goals, and being a team player. Or it could mean that sport prowess provides opportunities for individuals to attend institutions of higher learning, and in so doing, gain access to academic programs that provide not only a basic liberal education, but a foundation for future employment. The educational objective could also mean all of these things.

From a simple observational point of view there is probably little debate that involvement in an athletics’ program helps develop specific sport skills and knowledge. While there are a plethora of studies which empirically assess the degree to which students acquire sport skills while numerous variables are manipulated (e.g., see Magill, 1993 ), there is only anecdotal evidence from athletes and writers about how involvement in a particular program led to a participant’s athletic development. Perhaps the most interesting approach for conveying the idea that coaches can be great teachers of their sport comes from Walton (1992) who reviewed the teaching methods and programs of six individuals he selected as great coaches. Included in his analysis were Vince Lombardi, Woody Hayes, John Wooden, James Counsilman, Brutus Hamilton, and Percy Cerutty. Besides their prodigal achievements in terms of winning, they all had a genius for attracting talent and developing athletes and teams that excelled in the competitive domain. While Walton observed many common characteristics running across these individuals that transcended the immediate sport context, he found all to be great teachers of their sports. They were experts on techniques and strategies, innovative in creating or adapting to new practices, and able to convey information effectively. More recently, Smith (1998) has produced a similar analysis of basketball coach Pat Summitt, and the impact she has on teaching her recruits how to play basketball and win championships. Seemingly, the list of coaches who teach their sport well is long. Not all are nationally prominent. Nonetheless, there is probably little argument that students who participate in intercollegiates learn skills and acquire a significant amount of sport spicific knowledge. Consequently, an issue that might be broached concerns whether such sport’s specific learning alone justifies the existence of intercollegiates on educational grounds? I would think that most people would be hard pressed to make a convincing case that it does.

A second related issue is whether involvement in athletics helps participants develop a variety of positive character attributes. This idea has been around for a long time and goes back at least to ancient Greece and the belief that health and well-being was a function of both a sound mind and a sound body (i. e., mens sana in corpore sano). The idea was also found in the 1800s in England where the concept of "muscular Christianity" became a powerful force affecting educational philosophy and practice in "public schools". The basic notion was that physical strength and vigor went hand and hand with moral and spiritual strength. Thus, being a good Christian required individuals to develop themselves physically. According to Redmond (1978) team games such as cricket and football were especially popular during this period since it was believed that besides developing moral character, involvement also fostered loyalty and patriotism, which transferred in later life to the military. Perhaps this was the basis for French Parliamentarian Count de Montalembert, on visiting Eton in 1855 saying, that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton (Underwood, 1981).

In the United States sport also received a strong endorsement from the changing philosophical climate of the19th century (Mechikoff & Estes, 1998). In contrast to mind-body separation advocates such as Decartes, transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau believed that mind and body were a unity, that action was more important than contemplation, and that rugged individualism was something to be desired. Pragmatists such as Peirce and James further argued for mind-body unity, and the importance of experience in creating knowledge and shaping one’s behavior. According to Mechikoff and Estes (1998), Darwin’s work also had a profound effect on the idea that the physical and social environment had a powerful impact on our well-being, and that competition was an essential part of our biological and social survival. Adelman (1986) further makes the interesting point that during the middle of the 19th Century, as families moved to the cities and fathers took on factory and office jobs, they feared that their sons would become feminized by their wives who were at home. Consequently, the physicality of sport involvement was seen as a substitute for physical work that their sons would have done on the farms from which they had emigrated.

Embedded in this changing philosophical and social landscape during the late 19th Century and early 20th Century was the need for college administrators to justify intercollegiates as a legitimate part of an institutions educational mission. Seemingly, it could be argued that sport provided a medium through which students might acquire generic attributes such as discipline, co-operativeness, competitiveness, tolerance, perseverance and a host of other qualities that would supplement the knowledge and skills acquired in more conventional academic areas. Indeed, many prominent individuals have commented on the hypothesized relationship between sport involvement and the acquisition of important personal attributes. General Douglas MacArthur (1971) claimed that "Sport is a vital character builder" that teaches youth to be strong, brave, courageous, and to learn how to deal with both victory and defeat. He believed that "the seeds of victory in World War I were sown on the fields of friendly strife" (Underwood, 1981). Sociologist, David Riesman alluded to the importance of athletic experience in building positive personality attributes when he said, "The path to the boardroom leads through the locker room" (Underwood, 1981). Famed pediatrician Benjamin Spock, a member of the gold medal Olympic crew of 1924, similarly believed in the virtue of sport as an important element in his education and future success when he stated "Crew made me" (Underwood, 1981). Former President Gerald Ford also wrote about the importance of athletic competition and winning in building character (Ford, 1974).

Notwithstanding such personal beliefs, it is not irrefutable that involvement in intercollegiate sports has the categorically positive effect to which so many have attested. Gilbert (1988), perhaps, conveyed a more balanced perspective in stating:

Unlike, say, strychnine or tight shoes, the effects of sporting competition are not automatic and universal. Like eating, work or sex, competition can be constructive or corruptive depending on circumstances, individuals and how they behave themselves (p. 92).

Certainly, Robert Hutchins, former president of the University of Chicago, in convincing his board of trustees to abolish its football team in 1938 did not view football as contributing to the development of character (Lawson & Ingham, 1980). Seemingly, the belief in character development through sport is a mixed bag (Hodge, 1989). Today, those who study the issue from a more scientific perspective believe that the quality of experience determines whether people grow in a positive direction, or develop less desirable attributes. For example, it has been shown in youth sports that coaches who are trained to be good teachers, supportive of their athletes, and provide positive role models are better able to develop in their players the sorts of traits associated with character development (Smith & Smoll, 1997).

On the other hand, many have wondered about how the professional model of athletics, and the winning at any cost mentality has affected players from the highest levels down through youth sports. From the same social learning perspective (Bandura, 1977), it can be reasoned that models which display antisocial behavior, reinforce unsportsmanlike actions, and promote the notion that winning at any cost is the only dimension worth pursuing will produce less desirable traits in athletes. While no systematic studies exist which attempt to determine the effects of negative coaching behaviors, or a negative environment on the characterological development of athletes, some circumstantial evidence suggests that continued involvement in sport does not necessarily lead to the development of more mature moral reasoning. In fact, Bredemeier and Shields (1986) found that although high school basketball players and nonathletes were not different in their responses to two hypothetical moral dilemmas set in everyday life and two sport-specific situations, college non-athletes were superior in moral reasoning across both situations. When 20 college swimmers were added to the sample, it was found that they fell between non-athletes and basketball players on moral reasoning situations, although significant differences only occurred between swimmers and basketball players. Bredemeier and Shields (1993) concluded that such findings suggest that it is not experience in a sport which is associated with less mature moral reasoning, since swimmers were higher than basketball players even though they had about the same experience, but possibly "...the amount of physical contact, the length of involvement, the competitive level, or the type of interpersonal interaction in one’s sport experience" (p. 593). As well, they suggest that an alternative interpretation may be that persons with more mature moral reasoning may be less interested in, or are selected out of certain collegiate athletic programs. An earlier study by Ogilvie, & Tutko (1971) supported such a Social Darwinian notion in concluding that for a variety of personality traits a model which showed a filtering out, rather than a development of attributes was more tenable in identifying athletes at higher competitive levels.

Certainly, the argument can and has been made that advanced levels of participation requires a conformity to obeying rules set forth by those in charge. While learning to follow rules may serve an important social function, it may also stifle the development of character and moral development because it can lead to conforming to practices and behavior without thinking, or without developing the courage to not conform when such behavior would be more appropriate from an ethical viewpoint. In contrast to a model of sport in which coaches control most aspects, Crossley (1988) has argued for a model in which activities are actually less organized. Accordingly, this would provide a greater experiential framework around which participants themselves would learn to resolve controversies, and adjudicate differences. In the end, the argument justifying the inclusion of athletics in higher education as a means to develop character is ambiguous at best. Perhaps, Docheff (1998) puts it best in stating:

...character development can be positive or negative. The outcome of character development is determined by a number of factors-that is, the character of those that support and drive the endeavor, including coaches, teachers, administrators, parents, boosters clubs, and the student body (p. 24).

A third justification for the inclusion of athletics programs in higher education is that involvement, in some way, actually can contribute to a participants academic standing (Chu, 1989). Such a rationale is somewhat surprising in light of arguments to the contrary made by faculty and administrators throughout the years that athletics distracts students from their academic work. Indeed, in 1929 the Carnegie Foundation concluded the following:

The common notion that athletes in general are poorer students than non-athletes is erroneous. On the other hand, participation in sports that require very hard training and long practice hours impairs the academic standing of certain athletes.... The causes of this condition are ascribable not to inferior mental equipment among college athletes...but to the conduct, emphasis, and values of modern college sport.

Edwards (1986) further makes the point that for athletes in big time football and basketball programs the time commitment to their sport severely limits the effort they can make to their academic programs. Underwood (1980) estimated that football players at major Division I schools put in between forty-five and forty-nine hours a week during the season when preparation, participation and recovery are considered. Including travel time to the mix increases the estimate to about sixty hours a week. He estimated that basketball players t put in between thirty-five and forty hours a week, and with travel time fifty-hours was a reasonable approximation. Davies (1994) further points out that if an athlete is taking 15 credits a semester and putting in the typical two hours of study for each hour of class attended, this would mean that athletes must put in work weeks that exceed seventy hours! Obviously, this is not an optimal situation for a student attempting to earn a degree.

More recently the NCAA has attempted to limit such inordinate athletic time commitments by limiting practice time to 4 hours a day and 20 hours a week. But considerable "wiggle room" still exists. For example, all competition and any associated athletically related activities on the day of competition counts as three hours regardless of the actual duration of activities. Travel to and from practices and competitions are also not included in the tally. Furthermore, individualized conditioning sessions that are not "required" or supervised by athletic staff are not counted (NCAA Manual, 1998).

Consequently, one really must wonder about the basis of any argument which suggests that involvement in athletics enhances academic performance? Seemingly, the variety of athletic programs in which individuals engage, and the assortment of measures of academic achievement used to assess academic development are sufficiently large to make any type of generalization highly tentative. Involvement in intercollegiates can range from the more pristine forms that are found in Division III (e. g., Looney, 1994; Underwood, 1975) schools such as MIT and Amherst, to the more professionalized programs that are typified by such institutions as Florida State and the University of Nebraska. As well, there are also the "revenue producing" sports of football and basketball and the larger cluster of low profile sports such as tennis, field hockey, and swimming. Further, institutions themselves vary in academic reputation with the Ivy League and its cohorts on one end of the continuum, and a larger number of less prestigious institutions on the other end. Institutional and sport variability make comparisons of athletes and non-athletes problematic since being a football player at Ohio State is much different than being a volleyball player at Swarthmore. While both individuals are classified as "athlete", and both individuals may have a tremendous drive to be successful in their sport, it is more than likely that the expectations and demands for the two concerning training, travel, and other sport’s related activities are entirely different. Certainly, there is little comparison between the two in terms of exposure to large crowds, appearances on national television, and coverage in the media. Consequently, when Amherst President Tom Gerety speaks about sports as being "The sweatiest of the liberal arts" (Looney, 1994, p.77), he is talking about a totally different enterprise than what goes on in the Rose Bowl or Final Four. From a research point of view studies which have arbitrarily contrasted a group of athletes and non-athletes on a variety of academic measures with the intent of generalizing across all athletes and non-athletes has little meaning (for a review of such studies see Chu, 1989, pps. 69-73).

Furthermore, in assessing academic performance there are also a number of confounding issues. GPA would seemingly be a standardized measure that could be used to compare how athletes fare in contrast to their non-athletic cohorts, but GPA does not fairly capture course difficulty which typically ranges from the more challenging mathematical and scientific disciplines to the less technical, and typically more popular, "gut" courses and majors. To give meaning to such contrasts one would need to show that athletes and non-athletes are distributed across majors and courses in a similar fashion. While there are no wide scale studies that have examined this issue, it is more than likely that athletes in "big time" programs are not majoring in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and electrical engineering to the same degree as their non-athletic peers. Consequently, when one looks at contrasts of GPAs between athletes and non-athletes at Division I Schools, such as was done by the American Institute for Research (1988), and finds that athletes in revenue producing sports have lower GPAs (2.46) than athletes in other sports (2.61), or students involved with other types of extracurricular activities (2.79), one wonders what this actually means? The report also found that athletes had more psychological, physical, and alcohol and drug related problems than other students in time demanding extracurricular activities. Seemingly, in this study it does not appear that athletic involvement enhances academic performance, as was initially proposed. Indeed, the contrary may be true. Furthermore, given the likelihood that athletes are disproportionately represented in easier courses and majors, the argument could be made that athletic involvement actually depresses academic performance.

In the same study (American Institute for Research,1988), a factor which makes interpretation even more difficult is that athletes in revenue producing sports also were admitted to colleges with an average SAT of 883, which was slightly lower than athletes in other sports (919), and some 107 points lower than a non-athletic group (990). SAT is a predictor of subsequent academic performance, thus, one would predict from these SATs, everything else being equal, that the reported GPAs would be in the order reported. Thus, the depressing effect of athletics, previously alluded to, might actually be incorrect. It is entirely possible that athletic involvement has no affect on GPA, and that students performed academically, as expected, based on prior academic achievement.

Perhaps, if one wishes to make the case that sport involvement enhances academic achievement, the most compelling argument would be that talented high school athletes wish to continue to compete in organized sport after graduation, and unless they are talented enough to jump to the pros, their most likely option is playing in college. Consequently, the argument may be made that involvement in formal athletics’ programs provides motivation and a path to higher levels of education. Not only may athletes be motivated to play out their careers through the educational hierarchy, but colleges are more than willing to accept talented athletes who meet only minimal academic criteria. Consequently, exposure to at least some college is more than likely for those who wish to play their sport for as long as possible. Ultimately, this has the serendipitous benefit of at least exposing such individuals to higher levels of education.

This general hypothesis has a basis in a number of interesting observations made by Philips and Schafer (1971). They point out that several studies have concluded that athletes aspire to attend college to a greater degree than non-athletes, and that this effect is particularly marked for individuals lower in IQ and socio-economic status. Some of the reasons they proposed for this generic finding include: (a) athletes are more encouraged by coaches, teachers and counselors to attend college, (b) athletes are more likely to be members of the "leading crowd" who aspire to be college bound and upwardly mobile, (c) school policies often require students to meet specified academic standards before being allowed to participate, (d) athletes must be willing to conform to behavioral standards that keep them out of trouble, and (e) higher peer status may enhance an athlete’s self-esteem which transfers to greater motivation for succeeding academically. Spreitzer and Pugh (1973) further confirmed the relationship between athletic involvement and educational aspirations, but found that the "value climate" of a school determined the potency of the relationship. This was assessed by whether athletic or academic achievement was more highly valued. For schools in which athletics were valued more highly than academics, athletes had higher status among their peers, and consequently the argument was made that such individuals would normally wish to continue to receive recognition through college attendance. In contrast, the relationship between athletic involvement and educational aspirations was negligible in schools in which athletics were not held in high regard. From these studies it is evident that athletic involvement and educational aspirations are intertwined in a complex fashion. However, it does appear that when athletics involvement is a means for gaining social status, a variety of environmental contingencies reinforce athletes to seek upward mobility through present and future educational opportunities.

As an addendum to the notion that participation in athletics, in some manner, fosters academic achievement are the NCAA’s academic requirements for incoming college students. It sets a minimum standard that must be met in order for an individual in Division I and Division II to qualify for athletic scholarships, practice and compete (NCAA, 1998). In contrast to earlier times when too many individuals were accepted by colleges because of their athletic prowess, and were not adequately prepared or interested in doing college work the recent inclusion of standards guarantees at least minimal academic competencies. This has had the effect of sending a message to high school prospects that if they do not take academics seriously and prepare themselves for the rigors of college work, despite their athletic talent, they will not be eligible to receive an athletic scholarship, practice, or compete. Consequently, there is now a structural link between athletic involvement and motivation to achieve academically in high school.

Besides being a high school graduate, individuals must meet the following standards in Division I:  Successfully complete a core curriculum of at least 14 academic courses including at least four years in English, two in math, one year of algebra and one year of geometry (or one year of a higher-level math course for which geometry is a prerequisite), two in social science, two in natural or physical science (including at least one laboratory class, if offered); one additional course in English, math or natural or physical science; and two additional academic courses (which may be taken from the already-mentioned categories, e.g., foreign language, computer science, philosophy or non-doctrinal religion; See NCAA PowerPoint on Eligibility, 2003).

1. Have a grade-point average (based on a maximum of 4.000) and a combined score on the SAT verbal and math sections or a sum score on the ACT based on the following qualifier index scale.

Qualifier Index

Qualifier Index:








Core GPA


SAT (old

SAT (new


(new: sum















2.500 & above













































































In recognition that some individuals do not do well on standardized tests, but yet may be viable students, the NCAA has established the classification known as "Partial Qualifier." This means that an individual who does not meet the previous standards, but does meet those presented below, may practice with a team at its home facility and receive an athletics scholarship during his or her first year, and then still have three seasons of eligibility left. As well, as an inducement to focus on academics, a partial qualifier may earn a fourth year of eligibility if he or she receives a baccalaureate degree prior to the fifth year of full-time enrollment.

Partial Qualifier Index:


Core GPA


SAT (old

SAT (new


(new: sum















2.750 & above








































Division II also has academic criteria which students must meet, but they are somewhat simpler. As in Division I an athlete must have graduated from high school with a GPA of at least 2.0 and have completed a core of 13 courses including: three years in English, two in math, two in social science, two in natural or physical science (including at least one laboratory class, if offered by your high school) and two additional courses in English, math or natural or physical science; and two additional academic courses (which may be taken from the already-mentioned categories, e.g., foreign language, computer science, philosophy or non-doctrinal religion). In addition, individuals must have a combined score on the SAT of 700 if taken before April 1, 1995, or 820 if taken on or after April 1, 1995, or a 68 sum score on the ACT.

A partial qualifier in Division II is someone who has met only the GPA or SAT requirements, and is allowed to practice with a team at its home facility and receive an athletics scholarship during his or her first year. The individual then, if successful academically, has four seasons of competition remaining.

It is evident from these minimal academic criteria that the NCAA is attempting to do a better job of ensuring the student portion of the student-athlete equation. Although setting of these minimal academic standards seems relatively innocuous to most college constituencies since they are quite minimal, they have not been instituted without controversy. Some have argued that standardized tests discriminate unfairly on racial and cultural grounds. Recent data does show that considerable variability exists among groups with Asians and Whites scoring, on average, 21.8 and 21.7 on the ACTS and Mexican- Americans and Blacks scoring, on average, 18.5 and 17.1 (Chronicle of Higher Education, 1998a). For the SATs similar differences exist, with Whites and Asians scoring on average, 526 and 496, and Mexican Americans and Blacks scoring on average 451 and 434 (Chronicle of Higher Education, 1998b). While standardized test criteria are considered quite minimal, average differences between Whites and Blacks are approximately 11% in favor of Whites, and the majority of non-qualifiers and partial qualifiers have been Black.

While these differences are charged with racial overtones, the NCAA acknowledges that their own estimates predicted a decrease in college enrollments by Black athletes after Proposition 48 went into effect, with a return to pre-Proposition 48 levels by the mid-1990s (NCAA, 1998f). NCAA data shows that Black athletes represented 27.3% of student-athletes in 1985, the year prior to Proposition 48, and dropped to 23.6% the following year. But by 1989 the percentage had increased to 25%. The NCAA also reports that it did not see effects on enrollments by other groups as a result of Proposition 48, although Hispanic athletes had an initial decline, but returned quickly to prior levels and then surpassed those. However, they also predicted that with Proposition 48 graduation rates of Black athletes would rise. They substantiate this assertion by showing that in 1985, 1337 Black athletes graduated, but with 3.7% fewer Black athletes in 1989, 1613 graduated. These data seem to suggest that students who are better prepared for college have a better chance of graduating, and that high school students who wish to be college athletes will make a greater effort to achieve academically (e. g. see Suggs, 1999). Of course, there are alternative interpretations to the NCAA’s explanations for what is happening. For one, athletic departments have become more graduation conscious and have put in place more academic support services for student-athletes.

A second observation concerns the creation of what appears to be a "cottage industry" for cheating on ACTs and SATs in order to meet standards. Yaeger, and Wolff (1997) report on a number of cases in which prospective student-athletes did something illegal, or were in situations that looked suspicious, in order to meet NCAA standardized test criteria. Reported anecdotes ranged from copying from someone taking SATs sitting adjacent to the prospective college athlete, to having a substitute take the test. They also report on proctors changing answers. Seemingly, there is great pressure on athletics’ programs to recruit talent, some of which might now opt to go directly from high school to the pros because college becomes no longer an option when test scores are too low. As well, there may be a perception that agents from other programs may be making deals with athletes who know that their only hope of meeting academic standards is to do something unethical. Consequently, there are people who can be contacted to arrange to have recruits pass. Athletes also feel pressure to go along. Yaeger and Wolff quote three time Parade All-American basketball player, Terrance Roberson who had to sit out his freshman year at Fresno State for having his ACTs questioned,

"You're thinking, If I don't pass this test, I might not be in school. I might still be around my neighborhood. You're going to do whatever it takes. In this world, if you ain't got caught, you ain't cheating."

Despite Yaeger and Wolff’s report, it is unclear to what extent cheating occurs. Nonetheless, it is evident that, at least to some degree, colleges and athletes have attempted to beat the system.

A final issue that requires attention when discussing the impact of athletic involvement on academic achievement concerns graduation rates. As previously mentioned this measure is fraught with problems as an index of achievement since it is not entirely clear what a degree truly represents. Nonetheless, graduation rates have become a regularly monitored statistic to at least assess whether athletes are receiving degrees, or simply playing out their eligibility and leaving school with little more than they had upon entering college. Despite difficulty in interpreting the meaning of graduation rates, publication of this information (NCAA, 1998e) has put pressure on coaches and schools to provide services to athletes that will help them to obtain degrees. It is not uncommon today for large athletic programs to provide tutors, require study halls, have computer centers, and monitor an athlete’s academic progress. Seemingly, the reputation of a program, a coach, and an institution depends on athletes getting degrees. Reports of graduation rates of athletics programs are sent each year from the NCAA to 27,000 high schools for use by guidance counselors, coaches, students, and parents so that "athletics factories" can be separated from institutions where athletes get degrees in reasonable numbers. As well, collated data is published each year in a variety of media including the Chronicle of Higher Education. The following figures (Figure 1) show graduation rates for athletes and non-athletes at Division I school from 1984 through 1990. These figures, as is conventional, give percentages of athletes who enrolled as freshman, received athletics related financial aid, and who graduated within a six year period from the time of their initial enrollment. The NCAA claims that the data are conservative because athletes who transfer to another institution and graduate elsewhere are counted against the original institution as not having graduated, and are not counted as having graduated from the second college.

Figure 1. Graduation rates for male and female athletes

As seen in Figure 1 females tend to graduate at a higher percentage than males (on average 57.0% vs. 53.6%), while female athletes graduate at a significantly higher rate than their male counterparts (on average 66.0% vs. 51.3%). Furthermore, female athletes tend to graduate at a significantly higher rate than females in general (66.0% vs. 57%), while male athletes graduate at a slightly lower rate than males in general (on average 51.3% vs. 53.6%). Interestingly, the largest increase in graduation rates for athletes occurred in 1986, which was the first year that the NCAA invoked high school graduation standards for incoming freshmen athletes (i. e., Proposition 48).

From these data two points seem apparent. First, the introduction of academic criteria for incoming students in 1986 seemed to have had a positive effect on the graduation rates of both male and female athletes. The reason for this increment is not known, but could simply be a function of eliminating high school athletes who stood little chance of succeeding academically. Consequently, individuals with high school diplomas, but with marginal GPAs and poor SATs or ACTs, that may have been admitted in previous years by "athletic factories" were structurally removed from eligibility. If this was the case, the incoming classes from 1986 on would have higher academic potential than previous classes, and would thus be expected to have a higher rate of success. As well, it is also possible that the setting of standards and the publication of graduation rates changed the mindset of athletes and coaches who were not heretofore seriously committed to academics. The message was clearly that if an athlete could not cut it academically he or she would never even get an opportunity to play.

A second point that is derived from these data is the large difference in graduation rates between males and females. Across the six year period, female athletes not only exceed the graduation rates of females in general, but exceed the graduation rates of males, and male athletes by more than 10%! Why females in general have an advantage over males in graduation rate is not clear, nor is it evident why female athletes have such an overwhelming advantage over male athletes. One might speculate that the gap is a result of lower graduation rates from involvement in "revenue producing sports" such as football and basketball which often require a greater commitment, and, thus, greater conflict with academics than other programs. However, Figure 2 shows that the depressing effect of these sports seems to be more a function of the graduation rates of basketball players than of football players, who tend to approximate or exceed the graduation rates of male athletes in general. For females, basketball players also tend to under-perform other athletes in graduation rates, but still manage to out-perform females in general (see Figure 3). Remarkably, over the period 1984 to 1990, female basketball players, on average, have graduated at a rate almost 18% higher than their male counterparts which mirrors the difference in graduation rates between male and female athletes overall (i. e., 14.7%). Consequently, while lower graduation rates across sexes may be a function of data from basketball players, there is still no clear explanation for why females, and female athletes in particular, exceed the graduation rates of males by such a large margin. Furthermore, if graduation rates are used as an index of academic achievement, the argument might be made that an athletic dividend does exist for females.

Figure 2. Graduation rates for male basketball and football players

Figure 3. Graduation rates for female basketball players.

Another group that appears to benefit from athletics when graduation rates are used to assess academic achievement is black athletes. As seen in Figure 4, black female athletes on average graduated at a rate of 53% compared to 39% for all black females, while black male athletes graduated at a rate of 39.9% compared to 31.9% for all black males. While no unequivocal rationale for the "athletic dividend" exists, one might speculate that Division I athletes receive benefits not available to their non-athletic peers. These include such things as: (a)athletic scholarships, (b) tutors, (c) academic advisers, and (d) coaches whose jobs depend on players making satisfactory academic progress. As well, in order to complete four years of eligibility players must maintain acceptable grades. While an "athletic dividend" exists for this group, graduation rates for blacks still fall short of the average graduation rate of 55.4% for all college students over the period examined.

Figure 4. Graduation rates for black college students.

In summary, the argument that athletic involvement contributes to a student’s academic standing is equivocal at best. Everything else being equal there is no compelling evidence that involvement in intercollegiate athletics provides an intellectual stimulus which in someway generalizes to the classroom. On the other hand, the time and energy demands of participating in big-time programs, especially in "revenue-producing" sports, would seem to present barriers to excelling academically. Nonetheless, involvement in athletics does seem to be associated with a desire on the part of high school students to continue participating in college. This seems to be partly a function of wanting to continue an athletic career, and partly a function of embracing values of peers, coaches and teachers who steer athletes toward higher education. To participate fully in collegiate athletics as an incoming student in Division I and II athletes must first satisfy high school requirements, GPA prerequisites , and standardized test criteria, which further provides motivation to achieve academically. Once in college, to maintain eligibility, athletes must also sustain a minimal academic standard and make satisfactory progress toward a degree. Resources and encouragement also are typically provided to ensure that athletes maintain their eligibility and advance through their academic programs. The "athletic dividend" from such treatment is most evident in graduation data which shows athletes completing degrees at a higher rate than non-athletic cohorts. On balance, a reasonable conclusion would be that although athletic involvement may present barriers to excelling academically, or even choosing a course of study, it does also open up opportunities for gaining access to higher education, and completing a degree. 

Social Mobility of Athletes

Perhaps one aspect of athletics that has not received much attention is the impact of involvement on future economic and social mobility after graduation. While studies are equivocal on whether or not athletic experiences relate to the development of a variety of positive personal attributes, few studies have used social and economic variables as dependent variables. In a statistical investigation of 9787 individuals who entered college in 1971 (i.e., 4394 males and 5393 females), Long and Caudill (1991) attempted to determine whether athletic involvement related to annual income a decade later. Control variables included a constellation of personal attributes, along with academic and employment measures. Results found a 4% increment for males (i. e., $652), and no effect for females. A similar analysis done on 10 year graduation rates also showed an advantage for athletes (i.e., males and females) of about 4%, even when other predictors such as high school grades, SATs, race, parental income and education were held constant. The authors do note that most individuals in the sample attended smaller institutions (i.e., less than 5000), and consequently were not part of "big time" programs. Finally, Long and Caudill attributed their findings to the positive attributes alleged to be acquired from athletic participation, including discipline, confidence, motivation and a competitive spirit.

Such findings are consistent with a number of older and smaller studies. For example, Husband (1957) found that athletes graduating from Dartmouth in 1926 were, on average, earning 20% (i .e., $17,124 vs. $14,280) more than their non-athletic peers by 1956. Schrupp (1952) found a similar advantage for former University of Minnesota athletes over non-athletes (i. e., a difference of $1360). Sack and Thiel (1979 studying former Notre Dame football players over the period 1946 to 1965, did not find an income advantage for athletes over non-athletes, but they did find that athletes had equivalent incomes with nonathletes, despite the fact that they had come from poorer backgrounds. Interestingly, athletes also tended to have lower GPAs, take easier majors, and go on for fewer graduate and professional degrees than non-athletes. The authors also found that first string players had higher incomes than non-starters, and that first stringers tended to be disproportionately found in the ranks of business executives (i.e., presidents, vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, or treasurers).

Despite such evidence, it remains unclear what mechanisms, if any, can account for what appears to be a post college income/occupation advantage to former athletes. Loy, McPherson, and Kenyon (1978) suggest two possibilities. The first encompasses career sponsorship. For what ever reasons, athletes may receive preferential treatment when hired, or when up for a promotion. This explanation might fit well for former athletes of "big time" programs who have enjoyed positive publicity, and work for companies in a position which requires direct contact with the public. A second explanation parallels that given by Long and Caudill (1991) which suggests that athletes may have acquired certain attitudes and behavior patterns (e.g., achievement motivation, leadership, assertiveness, team player, etc.) which mesh well with corporate personnel needs. This latter explanation would also fit in well with the idea that given equivalent technical expertise, companies seek out employees who have better interpersonal skills, and broader backgrounds. Seemingly, this rationale would fit better with studies of former athletes who come from smaller programs. Certainly more research is needed to determine the validity of the athlete-occupation-income relationships. As well, as suggested in Husband’s study (1957), the causal link between athletic involvement and post college mobility has still not been unequivocally established. It is conceivable that the same personal attributes which drive individuals to be successful at athletics, school politics, or academics is responsible for post college success. Finally, studies are needed to examine whether this pattern also holds for females.

Benefit of Athletics Programs to Institutions

Just as arguments regarding whether or not athletic involvement actually enhances the lives of participants are equivocal and situationally specific, so too are beliefs regarding the impact of athletic programs on institutions. Perhaps, one of the classic cases which illustrates this point is the story of the men’s intercollegiate basketball team at City College of New York (i.e., CCNY). CCNY had a Cinderella year and won both the NIT and NCAA tournaments during the 1949-50 season. As conveyed in HBO’s City Dump (1998), the school was known as "the Harvard of the People" because the students who went there were intellectually gifted, but typically the sons and daughters of first generation Americans who had not yet gained access to more prestigious institutions. They could not afford to pay much in tuition (CCNY was tuition free), normally commuted home after classes, and were, or at least perceived themselves to be, of a different social background than typical Harvard students. The starting team during the 1949-50 season was made up of three Jews and two blacks. In one scene City Dump shows that when CCNY played legendary coach Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky team in Madison Square Garden, the Kentucky players refused to even shake hands with City’s players, inferring that they were less than worthy opponents. At the time it was also widely known that Rupp did not recruit Blacks, and a number of CCNY players were African Americans.

What comes through so clearly in this story is that the team truly represented something a lot bigger than basketball to the student body, and to the typical citizen of New York. Mort Sheinman, a student from the class of 1954, conveys that although the Yankees had Joe Dimaggio, the Yankees might have well been from a different planet. The CCNY basketball players were "guys from my neighborhood" who competed with the best teams in the nation, and ultimately went on to show everyone that the potpourri of ethnic and racial groups that were represented at CCNY and in New York were more than deserving of being included in the American mainstream. One New Yorker put it best when he said: "It's not like they did it for us. It's that they were us and did it." Marvin Kitman (Kitman, 1998) , a CCNY student reporter at the time recently claimed:

"When we beat Bradley for the NIT crown, it was the most important day in my life. At least until we also beat them in the NCAA. Here was this bunch of ethnics, three Jews and two blacks on the starting five, showing the rest of Middle America that we were something. We kicked the crap, as we used to say on the streets of Bensonhurst, out of them."

The team received all the accoutrements of celebrities, watches, rings, and even a New York City motorcade to celebrate what they had achieved as a basketball team, and as representatives of an institution and people crying out for recognition.

But, as conveyed in a review by Bark (1998), the following season was paradise lost, not because CCNY could not repeat their magnificent 1949-50 season, but because the hero’s were implicated in a massive point shaving scheme characterized by the team either losing games it should not have lost, or winning by less than the point spread had predicted. Bark put it well in conveying that "New Yorkers reacted as though Santa Claus had been caught shoplifting at Woolworth's." Former news correspondent and 1951CCNY graduate Martin Kalb said in the film that it was "Truly betrayal on a biblical level." Sportswriter Maurey Allen added: "That was the last time that I really believed in pure idealism." Not only was point shaving disclosed, but it was also disclosed that two of the CCNY players had forged entrance papers. Frank Hogan, New York District attorney took criminal action against those involved and some wound up serving jail time. Authorities at CCNY ultimately de-emphasized the program. There would be no more capacity crowds at Madison Square Garden cheering on the local boys.

This story is quintessential since it represents both the best and the worst in what college sports can offer to an institution. Clearly, the CCNY basketball team served to integrate a campus going in many different directions. Students and the community at large seemingly were eager to identify with their institution as one which brought everyone recognition. But more so, there was a sense that the success of this team confirmed that CCNY students had established themselves as being as worthy of inclusion in the American mainstream as students at any of the more traditional powers such as Kentucky, Kansas, Bradley, Stanford, and Michigan. Having reached this ethereal goal, and celebrated in the limelight that comes with such extraordinary achievement, made the havoc of it all being taken away so abruptly more devastating than it would have been had the basketball squad never achieved such glory. The team which had generated so much goodwill toward CCNY, its students, and supporters, ultimately brought shame. The title "City Dump" conveys not only that players "dumped" games, but that this is where they belonged, and, ultimately, where they metaphorically wound up.

An assessment of some beliefs about how athletics programs affect institutions.

While it is evident that a successful athletics program can help rally a disjointed college community around a central focus, the issue of whether such a phenomenon really is more than just a peripheral and ephemeral phenomenon with no meaningful relationship to the central academic mission of the institution is controversial. As suggested from historical overviews, does athletic success really result in a larger and more qualified pool of applicant? Do alumni show greater interest and financial support for their alma mater, if its teams are successful? Do public universities get greater support from state legislatures? Is more money available not only for athletics, but for academic programs when teams are successful? For winning programs does income exceed expenses? In essence, what is the net effect of going "big time", winning, and losing?

Enrollment. Since the late 19th century many have believed that fielding a nationally competitive team is beneficial to an institution’s enrollment, and general well-being. While this contention has resulted in a great deal of debate over the years, actual data with accompanying analyses have been lacking. For example, it was reported that after North Carolina State University won the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament in 1983, its applicant pool increased by 40% the following year (USA Today, 1985, April 3). Boston College was also reported to have had a 30% increase in its applicant pool the year after Doug Flutie won the Heisman Trophy, and its team was the best in the East (Newsweek, 1985, April 8). The University of South Carolina had a 23% increment in its pool of applicants in 1985, a year following its most wins in football. Wake Forest had a 14% increase in applicants in 1995 credited largely to the success of its basketball and football teams (Folkenflik, 1995). Even academically prestigious Northwestern University experienced an increase in applicants after its football team went to the Rose Bowl in 1996 (Selingo, 1997).

In an empirical study which examined whether "big-time", winning football programs affect enrollment patterns in colleges, McCormick and Tinsley (1987) concluded that both the size and quality of an institutions applicant pool varies with whether it has a "big time" athletics program (i.e., whether it belongs to a major conference), and the fortunes of its football team. Using SAT of incoming freshmen as a dependent variable they regressed a cluster of institutional variables including (a) number of volumes in the library, (b) student/faculty ratio, (c) size of endowment, (d) salary of professors, (e) age of university, (f) tuition, and (g) and whether the school engaged in major college athletics. In all models tested, they found athletic involvement to be positive and significant, which means, that everything else being equal, schools which participate in major college athletics have students with higher SATs. On average, this amounted to a 33 point increment. In a second analysis McCormick and Tinsley examined whether schools in major football conferences with higher winning percentages tended to attract students with higher SATs. Results showed that winning was related to SATs, but only to a modest degree. From these two sets of results the authors concluded that athletics and academics, at least from a student applicant pool perspective, have a symbiotic rather than antagonistic relationship. In their discussion they do pose the interesting question of why some prominent universities, such as those found in the Ivy league do not promote big time programs. The authors hypothesize that possibly because of these institution’s academic reputations, historical traditions, and financial resources they are not impacted by athletics in the same way as colleges represented in their study.

Consequently, from the limited evidence available, it does appear that having a big-time, successful athletics programs does have a favorable impact on attracting a larger number of students. However, it also appears that there are many institutions where no relationship exists. Historical tradition, and the nature of the institution appear to be mediating variables.


To get a sense of the amounts of money involved in intercollegiate sports we will start with the NCAA budget (NCAA, 2003). As seen in Table 1, the NCAA had an income of $422,233,000 during 2002-2003, $370 million (87.63%) comes from television. Championships yield another $38,233,000 ($25,400,000 of which is from the men's D1 basketball championship).A piechart of budgeted income can be found by clicking on budget. When television is combined with the D1 men's basketball championships it becomes apparent that this event, which is in the midst of an ongoing 7 year, $1.75 billion contract with CBS, provides the largest portion of the NCAA's income.

On the expense side one sees that $245,026,000 (approximately 58%) is returned to Division I members through a variety of programs, with the Division 1 men’s basketball fund being the largest. The Division II allocation of $18,452,000 represents approximately 4% of the budget, while Division III receives $13,427,00 which was about 3% of expenses.A pie chart of expenses can be found by clicking on expenses.

Table 1. NCAA Operating Budget 2002-2003

REVENUE Budget/Expenses








Division I men's basketball


Other Division I championships


Division II championships


Division III championships


Sales and services


General revenue (investment, dues, fees)


Total NCAA operating revenue







Distribution to D I Athletic Programs ((Note 1)


Distribution to Student-Athlete Program (Note 2)


Distribution to Conference Programs


Total Distribution to D 1 Members




Men's Basketball


Game Expenses




Other D1 Championships


Game Expenses




Other D1 Programs


Basketball Mentoring


Championship Promotions


Other D1 Programs


Total D1 Expenses and Allocations

$297,378,000 (70.43%)



D2 Expenses and Allocations (Note 4)


Championship Game Expenses


Championship Travel


Distribution of Enhancement Fund


Programs and Other Expenses


Championship and Program Support


Funding from D2 Reserves


Total D2 Expenses and Allocations

$18,452,000 (4.37%)



D3 Expenses and Allocations (No


Championship Game Expenses


Championship Travel


Programs and Other Expenses


Championship and Program Support


Funding from D3 Reserves


Total D3 Expenses and Allocations

$13,427,000 (3.18%)



Association-Wide Expenses


Student - Athlete Welfare and Youth Programs and Services (Note 5)


Catastrophic Insurance


Sports Science


Initial Eligibility


Youth Programs


Award Ceremonies




NCAA Foundation - Student Athlete Programs


Sports Agent/Gambling and basketball certification


Total Student - Athlete Welfare and Youth Programs and Services




Membership Programs and Services


Public Affairs


Branding, Broadcasting and Promotions


Convention and seminars


Education Outreach and Professional Development


Liability insurance


Officiating improvement programs




Athletics certification and education


Grants and other services


Other Program Services:


Membership services (Note 7)


Enforcement Services and Basketball Certification (Note 7)


Championships (Note 7)


Education services (Note 7)


Total Membership Programs and Services


Total Programs and Services




Legal Services and Contingencies








Association-Wide Expenses






General and Administrative Expenses (Note 6)


Executive and governance staff (Note 7)


Public affairs (Note 7)


Finance and information services (Note 7)


Contingency-Administrative Services


Total Administrative Services




Division 2 and 3 Championships and Program Support




Total Association-Wide Expenses




Total NCAA Operating Budget




NCAA Presidential Transition Reserve


Association-Wide Reserve (Note 3)


Repair and replacement reserve


Funded Operating/Furniture and Equipment Reserve




Total Budget Expenses


Note 1: Amount sent to institutions and conferences to subsidize student-athlete's grants-in-aid and sports programs.Note 2: Distribution to student-athlete programs includes the academic enhancement fund, special assistance fund and student-athlete opportunity fund. Note 3: The membership trust/association-wide reserve is money allocated by each respective Division forfuture use for that respective Division. Note 4: Division II and III allocations are calculated at 4.37% and 3.18%, respectively, of NCAA operating revenue. Note 5: 'Student-Athlete Welfare and Youth Programs and Services' does not include the distribution to studentathleteprograms. Note 6: General and administrative expenses include facilities costs, employee procurement, computer services, furniture and equipment, depreciation, and other general office expenses. Note 7: Includes salaries, payroll taxes, pension contributions, insurance, travel & entertainment expenses, postage, telephone, printing and duplicating for each functional area.

From a casual overview of income and expenses it is apparent that income from Division I commercial endeavors accounts for virtually all of the revenue of the NCAA. Logically, most of the operating budget goes back to Division I. On the other hand Divisions II and III generate less than 1% of the NCAA’s income, but receive back over 7% of the money dispersed. It is also evident that the NCAA spends money on many things such as research, professional development, youth clinics, sport sciences and public relations, but it also spends approximately 6% of its budget on administration.

Certainly, one of the NCAA’s prime missions is to promote intercollegiate athletics. The largest item in its operating budget is the Division I basketball fund (23%). Here money is allocated to conferences based on the number of games their team’s played in the NCAA tournament over a six year rolling period. Independents receive the same allocation. For each game a team played the conference or independent received approximately $130,697 in 2002-03. For example, a conference received $784,182 if its teams played in 6 games over the past six years. The NCAA urges conferences to divide this money equally among all conference members.

The NCAA also supplements athletic scholarships through its Grants in Aid Fund allocated to Division I institutions based on the number of athletic scholarships it awards. In 2001-2002 this amounted to $144.05/athlete for the first 50, $288.19/athlete for 51-100, $1440.50/athlete for 101-151, $2881.00 for counts above 151. Consequently, an institution with 82.77 scholarships will receive a check of $16,644, one with 165.74 athletes $138,979, and one with 245.42 grants in aid will receive $368,538 from the NCAA. From this formula it is evident that the more athletics' scholarships awarded by an institution the greater the subsidy per student. .

The Sports Sponsorship Fund attempts to promote expansion of the number of sports offered by an institution. For sports in which the NCAA sponsors championships, and for those qualifying as emerging sports for women, the NCAA grants schools $13,827 per sport beginning with the 14th sport offered. Thus, an institution with 25 qualifying sports would have received $152,097 in 12001-02 from the NCAA.

In accordance with its goal to help athletes academically the NCAA has allocated $16,780,00 million, which amounts to $51,000 to each Division I school, for the purpose of providing funds for enhancing academic programs and services for student-athletes. Suggested uses include the support of tutorial services, equipment (e.g., computers), supplies and any additional personnel to facilitate this objective. Another item in the budget is $10,425,000 for a special assistance fund. Its purpose is to assist athletes in Division I with special financial needs in emergency situations where financial assistance is not otherwise available. These funds are administered by conferences and can be used to pay for such things as clothing, academic supplies, family emergencies, and medical costs not covered by insurance. Money is also allocated by the NCAA through its Conference Grants Program to support such things as drug education, management training in athletics for ethnic minorities and women.

The overall picture of the NCAA budget appears to be one of supporting its programs, especially Division I men’s basketball from which most of its income is derived. It also rewards conferences and independents who consistently do well in the post season basketball championship. Interestingly, it also allocates a greater share of its budget to programs that support more scholarship athletes, and a greater number of teams. Seemingly, these items present somewhat of a mixed picture that can be interpreted as promoting increased commercialization, increased participation opportunities for students, or both. Other items, such as those allocated for academic assistance, special assistance, professional development, research, sport science, gender-equity, support for ethnic minorities, and allocations to Divisions II and III reflect an NCAA that recognizes many of the current issues facing collegiate athletics. Whether enough money that is derived from its commercial enterprises is redistributed in an appropriate fashion is worthy of discussion. Certainly, an issue that might be raised is why the NCAA redistributes funds to conferences based on the number of games won in its men's basketball tournament over a six year period. In accordance with some of its own initiatives, money could be distributed based on criteria such as how well a school promotes gender equity, its record for graduating athletes, the academic achievement of its athletes, and its employment history for hiring persons of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Despite all the Money, Most Schools Operate in the Red

While a great deal of money is involved in college athletics, most Division I programs have been reported to be in the red. According to a report from the National Association of College Business Officers (Lederman, 1993), fewer than 50 colleges in Division I actually make a profit from athletics. During the 1980s the report asserts, sport expenses grew at a rate three times that of inflation, which was much faster than revenues. Notwithstanding the NCAA's distribution of money to members, costs for scholarships, personnel, recruiting, facilities, equipment, meals, and travel typically out-pace revenue.

More recently, Fulks (Rolnick, 1998) concluded from an ongoing series of studies on financing athletics' programs that in Division I-A during 1997 only 43 schools had revenues that exceeded expenses, and that without subsidies from universities (mean = $1.3 million) the average program would have lost $823,000. In Division 1-AA the average loss was $1,962,000, and in Division 1-AAA it was $1,874,000. However, the study also found that 71% of Division 1-A football programs showed a profit (mean = $5 million), while the remaining 29% lost on average $1 million. Furthermore, the study reported that average expenses for Division I athletics had nearly tripled over the period 1985 through 1997, going from $6.9 million to $17.3 million. Finally, participation was up as a result of more programs being offered for females. The message from this study is that if a program is to make money it should be more like Florida State whose football team took in $18.7 million dollars when gate receipts, NCAA and conference subsidies, and fees for licensed merchandise were summed.

In 1998 USA Today published the revenues and expenses for athletic programs in major conferences (USA Today, 1998). Football and basketball were singled out and remaining sports were grouped as a conglomerate. To get a sense of what is going on financially, Table 2 shows data for The Atlantic Coast Conference (i. e., ACC). As seen in the bottom section of the table which shows the overall outcome when all income and expenses are computed, 5 of the 9 schools were in the red for the year. When one examines football one sees that only Georgia Tech lost money, and in men's basketball only Clemson was a loser. When finances for men's basketball and football were averaged a positive bottom line resulted. However, when one examines women’s basketball, and other men's and women's programs it is readily seen that programs cost schools more than they brought in. On average women’s basketball lost $558,596, men's other sports lost $1,392,581, and women's other sports lost $1,586,221. Consequently, one can see that even for a very high profile conference running in the black is not automatic (4 out of the 9 were in positive territory), and to do so depends on income generated from football and men's basketball programs.

Table 2. Revenue and Expenses for ACC Athletic Programs 1997.


 Foot. Rev

 Foot. Exp

 Net Football

 Bask. Rev

 Bask. Exp.

 Net Bask















Florida St







Georgia Tech














N. Carolina







N.C. State














Wake Forest























Wom. Bask. Rev

Wom. Bask. Exp.

Bask. W. Net









 Florida St




 Georgia Tech








 N. Carolina




 N.C. State








 Wake Forest















M Rev


M Expense

 Net Mens


 .Other Wom. Rev

 Wom. Exp.

 Net Womens
















 Florida St







 Georgia Tech














 N. Carolina







 N.C. State














 Wake Forest





















* 0 was used in computations where NA appeared.


 Net Totals





 Florida St


 Georgia Tech




 N. Carolina


 N.C. State




 Wake Forest




Doing the same analysis with a lower profile conference such as the Mid-American shows even a much more serious imbalance between income and expenses. Table 3 reveals that all 11 schools loose money in football (average = $947, 445), and men’s (average=$220,484) and women’s basketball (average=$327,966). As well, the average deficit for all other men’s sports was $777,591, and for all other women's sports was $996,454. As a conglomerate these institutions had an average athletic deficit of $3,269,940, with a range of $2,903,143 for Western Michigan to $4,210,706 for Kent State. Consequently, unlike the higher profile ACC where football and men's basketball can pay for other athletic programs, Mid-Atlantic Conference Athletic Programs do not generate sufficient income in any sports to offset costs in other areas.

Table 3. Revenue and Expenses for Mid-American Athletic Programs 1997.









 Foot. Rev.

 Foot. Exp.

 Net Football

 Bask. Rev.

 Bask. Exp.

 Net Basketball








 Ball State.







 Bowl. Green







 C. Michigan







 E. Michigan







 Kent State







 Miami (Ohio)







 N. Illinois







 Ohio U














 W. Michigan























 Wom. Bask. Rev

 Wom. Bask. Exp.

 Net W Basketball





 Ball State




 Bowl. Green




 C. Michigan




 E. Michigan




 Kent State








 N. Illinois




Ohio U








 W. Michigan















 Other Men Rev.

 Men Exp.

Net Mens Other

 Other Wom. Rev

 Wom. Exp.

 Net Womens








 Ball State







 Bowl. Green







 C. Michigan







 E. Michigan







 Kent State







 Miami (Ohio)







 N. Illinois.







 Ohio U.














 W. Michigan.




























 Ball State


 Bowl. Green


 C. Michigan


 E. Michigan


 Kent State


 Miami (Ohio)


 N. Illinois.


 Ohio U




 W. Michigan






Consequently, what we see from these analyses is that contrary to popular beliefs, participating in Division I does not necessarily result in a positive cash flow. Institutions which "make money" from athletics do so through their football and/or men's’ basketball programs. All other programs, across all conferences reviewed by USA Today (i. e., ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Big West, Conference USA, Mid-American, Pact 10, SEC, WAC) cost more to run than they generate in income. Perhaps, this explains why paying large salaries to coaches who can recruit "high profile" football and basketball players, produce "winners", fill stadiums and arenas, attract television coverage, and participate in post-season championships is so important. If schools can not make money in these sports, their athletic programs are certain to run in the red. Interestingly, the athletics' department is like all other departments in colleges with respect to their inability to generate enough revenue to pay their expenses. However, most athletics programs, unlike those designated in the academic sphere, have a written or unwritten mandate to be self-supporting.

More recently, Fulks (2002a)has compiled data on athletic finances and the NCAA has published his report which contains over 100 pages of tables breaking down revenues and expenses for virtually every question of interest to sport's administrators and decision makers. As seen in Table 4, which collates data from Table 2.3 in his report deficits in DI - AA and DI - AAA appear to be sizable and rising over the period 1993 - 2001. As well, it should be noted that for some institutions deficits are even greater since some institutions within each category have a revenue surplus which tends to moderate average deficits. Furthermore, capital expenses are not included in these computations, so that these figures represent conservative estimates. Since budgets must ultimately be balanced, the question arises of how these deficits are paid?

Table 4. Athletic Program Operating Deficits in D - I (1000s of dollars)



D I - AA



























Division I-A: In accordance with NCAA bylaws, the group includes those institutions that play at least 60 percent of their regular-season football games against other Division I-A institutions. All but four basketball games (both men’s and women’s programs) must be against other Division I teams. Seven men’s and seven women’s, or alternatively six men’s and eight women’s sports, must be sponsored. There are also requirements for attendance, scheduling and financial aid.

Division I-AA: These institutions must play more than 50 percent of their regular-season football games against Division I-A or I-AA institutions. All but four basketball games (both men’s and women’s programs) must be against other Division I teams. Seven men’s and seven’s women’s, or alternatively six men’s and eight women’s sports, must be sponsored. There are also requirements for scheduling and financial aid.

Division I-AAA: This group of institutions does not sponsor football. Other requirements are identical to those of Divisions I-A and I-AA

Who pays for deficits?

As with shortfalls in personal finance, a strategy must be devised to find money elsewhere to make up deficits. One possibility is to transfer money from a school’s general operating budget into its athletics budget. This would parallel how Division III works, whereby the entire athletics' budget is normally allocated from an institutions instructional funds. As might be anticipated, this is not a popular strategy in Division I where programs are larger and viewed as more of a commercial endeavor than an educational one. As well, deficits are significantly greater than the costs of entirel Division III programs. Athletics pundit Murray Sperber (1990) has, however, questioned such a practice since he believes that money that could be, and should be used for academic instructional purposes should not be allocated to programs that are detached from a university’s central mission. He gives the example of teaching an English course with 150 students, arguing that if funds which went to offset athletics deficits were allocated instead to the English department, section sizes could be reduced and the educational process for many students enhanced. This argument, of course, could be generalized to encompass scientific equipment that does not get purchased, courses that do not get taught, financial aid to needy students that does not get awarded, and maintenance of facilities that does not get done. It is apparent that Sperber’s argument is strong and politically popular. Consequently, funds to offset deficits must be found elsewhere.

Perhaps, this issue is best encapsulated by the ongoing debate occurring at Rutger's University (Naughton, 199). A group known as Rutgers 1000 has been trying to generate support to force Rutgers to drop-out of the Big-East, stop awarding athletic scholarships, and reduce its expenditures on sports. Part of the motivation for this group comes from the estimated athletics deficits of between $3 and $6 million dollars during each of the past few years. Yet, Rutger's went out and hired a new athletic director, Robert Mulcahy, who was able to generate enough support to obtain $3 million dollars from the state legislature to renovate and expand administrative offices at the Rutger's athletic center. The juxtaposition of losses with increased expenditures in a program creating a financial drain on the university is enigmatic. But, the University administration remains supportive of the athletics programs. Dean of the college Carl Kirschner argues : "Rutgers is a major public research institution with multiple responsibilities to multiple populations, and one I believe is allowing student athletes to participate in competitive athletics." University president, Francis Lawrence, also conveys the importance of using athletics as a way to cultivate support from the state legislature. He claims that "… Good sports teams are a way to win friends and influence people." Seemingly, the issue is complex, and athletics deficits can be offset in ways that are perceived by some to actually result in an overall net gain.

Student fees

Apparently, at least part of athletic deficits are being made up by increasing student fees. According to Mangan (1994) in 1989 3% of a Division 1-As athletic department’s budget was made up by student fee. In 1993 it had grown to 6%. In Divisions I-AA and I-AAA percentages had grown from 14% and 17% to 25% and 32%, respectively. Mangan further reports that in many states universities are prohibited from using tuition funds to support athletics’ programs, but they can use supplementary fees. She gives the example of Virginia being such a state, and in 1994 $800 of a students fees at the University of Virginia went to the athletic department which had a budget of $8.2 million dollars, 80% of which was generated from such funds. At William and Mary students were paying $660 for athletics, which Mangan conveyed was surprising to some students since components of their general fees were not broken down. At the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (i. e., UNCG) students were irate to see their athletic fees climb by 80% after the school moved to Division I in 1991 (Selingo, 1997). Fees climbed to $1003 a year which was just $13 dollars less than in-state tuition! Four-hundred and twenty-two dollars of their fees pay for 80% of the $3.6 million dollar athletics budget, since the department has been unable to generate much income itself. Part of the rationale for going "big time" was to attract more men to a school which had transitioned from being a women's institution, and to promote its development effort. Unfortunately for UNCG the impact in both areas has been inconsequential, but the financial costs for operating the program have increased significantly above what they would have been had the school remained in Division III.

The University of Houston has also been doing some sole searching. The athletics' program has run deficits in the $4 to $5 million dollar range. Its total athletics budget in 1996 was about $13 million dollars, $2 million of which was paid by student fees (Managan, 1996). As previously noted, faculty think that money appropriated for making up the shortfall should be used for hiring more faculty, supporting graduate assistants, and improving library resources. The University of Houston has been among the elite athletic schools in the country, having alumni that include basketball standout Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, track stars Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell, and Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware. But the program has run deficits for most of the decade, is near the bottom in Division I as far as graduation rates are concerned, and has had a football program that has been on probation for rules infractions. As well, students at the school do not seem particularly interested in athletics, and in general, do not have the time to attend contests. Houston is a commuter school, and students often work in addition to attending classes. While it is clear that the program has seen better days, there are still those who think that a major university needs not only excel academically, but athletically as well. Alumni John Moore is one such individual, who in 1991, with his wife gave $51.4 million to the university, $29 million of which went to a new athletics' center. He, for one, thinks that athletics is an important part of college life for all students.

Coupled with increasing student fees to support athletic programs is the subtle issue of general financial aid. As athletic fees increase, so does the cost of attending college, which directly affects the amount of aid for which a student is eligible. Consequently, institutions, states, and the federal government, who support various financial aid programs, are indirectly providing funding through students to finance athletic programs (Athletics and Their Costs, 1993). This is typically a hidden cost that would not be popular with non-athletic constituencies. Sperber (1990), for example, reported that in a 1988 poll in Arkansas, 75% of respondents favored limiting state support of college athletics, and 71% were in favor of college athletics programs being self-supporting. This would suggest that athletics was not viewed as central to the mission of higher education and worthy of the type of support typically given to academic programs. Thus, state tax dollars, in many instances, may not be going directly to support athletic programs, but may be indirectly routed through aid packages to students who then must pay athletic fees.

Another issue regarding payment of fees by students that gets little attention is related to the unequivocal finding that non-revenue producing sports operate at a significant deficit, and afford virtually no benefit to the typical student. Whereas the case can be made that football and basketball programs may provide entertainment, and a rallying point around which a community can unify, non-revenue producing sports receive little attention on campus and provide value only to participants and coaches. Yet, these programs are expensive and require coaching staffs, scholarships, facilities, and travel budgets which are similar, but somewhat smaller in scope, than larger football and basketball programs. As well, the typical student normally has little chance of participating for these teams on a walk-on basis. Nevertheless, students must support these programs through their fees. From an administrative perspective, such programs are justified not because of their inherent value to an institution, but because a minimum number of sports teams are required by the NCAA to qualify for Division I or II status.

Reducing Deficits

An alternative response to running large deficits and increasing student fees was made by a number of institutions that decided to leave Division I for Division III (Blum, 1994). One such institution was Hardin-Simmons University, a small Baptist institution in West Texas. During the 1930s, 40s, and 50s it had a competitive football team, sent players to the pros, and even played in post season bowl games. But, in the late 1950s and early 1960s it hit on hard times, and had five consecutive losing seasons. Consequently, Hardin-Simmons decided to eliminate its football team. After its other teams competed in Division I for five additional years, it made the leap to Division III. By so doing, Hardin-Simmons was able to bring back their football program. In addition, their other teams have done well, and they are able to offer more teams which had twice as many students involved in athletics than before they changed divisions. In the final analysis the college community, including alumni who participated at the Division I level, seem to think that as long as games are exciting and competitive, which Division a school competes in makes little difference.

An issue that appears to create debate is whether or not students should be made to support a program which may be of only tangential interest to them, and not relate directly to their academic work. A counter argument made by administrators is that whether or not the athletics program is of interest to a particular student is not of paramount importance, but whether or not the program is valuable to the campus as a whole. The argument for increased student applications, increased alumni support, increased appropriations from state legislatures, and the integrating effect athletics can have on a campus are usually invoked as rationales for justifying fees. 

Are Alumni Donations Really Dependent on Athletic Success?

The belief that a successful athletics program can translate into increased giving to a college has been around for many years. Essentially, those who advocate this view argue that alumni like to be associated with successful programs, and when teams do well, the stature of the institution from which they received their degree is enhanced and, indirectly, so are they. Consequently, to show their appreciation, and to help maintain such achievements, alumni are more likely to make donations to their alma mater. This belief has been widely debated, and an unequivocal generalization regarding its validity seems beyond empirical support. Unlike the hard numbers that can be reported for the total amount of money donated to a college over a specified time period, it is virtually impossible to tease out the percentage of gifts given as a consequence of athletics success. To do so would require a comprehensive understanding of donor motivations. Seemingly, these are complex and a product of many factors.

That athletic success and development drives do not always go hand in hand was brought home to me during a panel discussion several years ago. I asked a president of a prestigious small college whether he believed that winning teams and alumni giving were directly related. The president claimed that at his institution there was no relationship, and gave a timely example. In the previous year the football team had lost every game, athlete’s spirits were low, and as one might expect, the campus had difficulty rallying around the program. Yet the Development Office reported a record year! Seemingly, if contributions by alumni and winning athletics teams went hand in hand one would wonder why institutions such as the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, and MIT have managed to maintain enviable financial solvency without the need to field "big time" programs? In contrast to the athletic success - alumni giving notion, others have argued that most donations are made to the general operating budget, to support specific academic programs, or to enhance an endowment, not to finance sports.

Sperber (1990) makes the important distinction between persons who graduated from an institution (i. e., alumni), and those individuals who may have no affiliation with a school other than as contributors and supporters of its athletic programs (i. e., boosters). He claims that alumni are not particularly supportive of athletic departments, and rarely do more than 1 to 2 percent of them actually contribute money to its teams. Alumni, in general, prefer to give gifts to support academic programs. In fact, Sperber asserts that many alumni may actually be hostile to athletic programs. On the other hand, boosters seldom give money to an institution for academics. Seemingly, these group distinctions are important since athletic success may be related to the amount of money donated by boosters which goes directly to athletic programs, rather than to a university's general fund. In contrast, alumni donations typically support the academic mission of an institution, and are relatively unaffected by its athletic fortunes. The bottom line here would be that winning and loosing may only be related to the amount of money contributed by boosters to athletics, and that the general increment in giving alleged to result from athletic success is more fiction than fact.

Even at major Division I institutions the relationship between athletic success and development is less than clear. On the one hand there are people like John Moore and his wife who gave the University of Houston $29 million for an athletics complex in 1991, but then there are also people like Richard Conklin, an official at Notre Dame, who claimed that there was no relationship between athletic success and giving (Lederman, 1988). Vice president for development at the University of Southern California, Roger Olson, also corroborated this view in stating that fund raising efforts would be unaffected by whether or not athletics teams were successful. He went on to say, "The simple fact is that the person who wants to come in and give $8 million to build a new laboratory for our neuroscience research program is really interested in cutting-edge research" (Lederman, 1988). By the same token, according to a University of Maryland development official, persons who donate to the athletic department seldom make contributions to academic programs (Bergmann, 1991).

These observations are supported by a number of empirical studies which have found no relationship between alumni donations and dropping of football in 151 schools during the period 1939 to 1974 (Hanford, 1974), or in whether or not football and basketball teams (79 schools were examined) had winning records (Budig, 1976; Sigelman and Carter, 1979). Gaski and Etzel (1987) came to the same conclusion in their study of 99 Division I institutions during the period 1970 through 1979. These studies would seem to be supported by Frey (1981) who polled a random sample of alumni from Washington State University. He asked their opinions on how university expenditures should be prioritized. Results showed that academic programs and assistance to students ranked much higher than athletics. In another question respondents were asked to recall their "most remembered" experiences in school. Only 2.9% of alumni mentioned athletics. If Frey’s sample can be generalized to alumni in general, one might conclude that they are not as eager, as some might contend, to build and support athletic programs. Interestingly, in Frey’s study, alumni leaders were also polled, and found to be somewhat more predisposed to supporting athletics than the general body of alumni. He hypothesized that the notion that alumni are eager to support athletics may stem from the alumni leader-athletic director-coach coalition, rather than from the real opinions of rank and file alumni.

Nonetheless, there is some evidence that suggests that contributions to an institution are dependent on athletic success. For example. Sigelman and Bookheimer (1983) found a significant correlation between athletic contributions and football success, but no relationship between football success and contributions to the university's general fund in "big time" programs. Additionally, Coughlin and Erekson (1985) found that success in football, football attendance, bowl participation, and basketball winning percentage were directly related to donations. However, the money coming in again was designated for athletics, not academics. Interestingly, they found no relationship between athletic donations and an institution’s academic quality, whether it was private or public, and the number of sports offered.

Brooker and Klastorin (1981) also found a relationship between winning football games and alumni donations in the Big 10. Specifically, they reported that the number of alumni who gave to a university and their average donation increased with the institution's football fortunes. They also found this to be true in the Ivy League. On the other hand, they found no relationship between athletic success and giving in schools not affiliated with conferences, smaller public universities, and those that focused on basketball. These authors also cautioned that the relationship of athletic success with alumni giving was very situationally specific, chancy, and transient. Consequently, they concluded that "Colleges and universities would be well advised to develop well-rounded programs for solicitation and for creating alumni support and loyalty through other methods to prepare for the eventual losing year in athletics" (p. 750).

Nevertheless, a study by the NCAA in 1989 (Raiborn, 1990) found that contributions from alumni and others made up, on average, 15%, 11%, and 10% of Division I-A, I-AA, and I-AAA athletics' operating budgets respectively. In the report, it was conveyed that this percentage had only been about 5% in 1965. While giving appears to be on the rise, the increasing support of athletic budgets by persons not formally part of an institution seemingly could be problematic, since their interests and that of a college’s administration may differ regarding program philosophy and management. Certainly, with a variety of income streams an athletic director could be placed in a position of having to serve several bosses. As well, some institutions have allowed booster organizations to endow or supplement coaches compensation packages which also can have consequences for the direction taken by a program.

Furthermore, funds from external sources, including those from boosters, have tended to create compensation packages which clearly place coaches in prominent revenue producing sports in a different category than those in professorial or administrative positions. For example, a poll taken of salaries of coaches at 87 universities competing in major conferences found that for 1996-97 the median compensation package for male basketball coaches was $290,000, and for football coaches it was $268,000 (Naughton, 1997). For the same year the average salary for a professor at institutions offering doctoral degrees was $76,326 (Chronicle of Higher Education, 1998c). Indeed, the chief executive officer of institutions offering doctoral degrees made an average of $174,638 during 1996-97. While it is true that the coaches compensation is not strictly salary (e.g., TV and radio shows, cars, camps, etc.), it does represent a strange disparity between those persons having a responsibility for an institutions central academic focus (i.e., chief executives and professors), and those responsible for one of its extracurricular programs. Interestingly, Savage et al. (1929) found in a survey of over 100 colleges seventy year ago the average salary for an academic dean was $6409, the average for a professor $5148, and the average for a head football coach $6107. Seemingly, the balance has shifted!

Consequently, it appears that the benefit from having a winning team is localized to the institution and athletic program examined. As conveyed, when an increase in donations do relate to athletic success, this may actually interfere with potential gifts going to other programs. However, alternative interpretations are possible. Seemingly, one could also argue that an increase in funds designated for athletics means that the institution’s general operating budget will be less pressured to offset athletic deficits, and can consequently be used more fully to support programs for which it was intended. At the very least, from circumstantial evidence and the few studies that have examined this issue, there is no really strong support for the belief that winning in ‘big time" college sports results in a substantial increase in alumni giving. As with the many variables discussed, it really depends on the unique situation being examined.



In a report recently released by the NCAA Litan, Orszag, & Orszag (2003) concluded that:

Between 1993 and 2001 in Division I-A, every dollar increase in spending on football and basketball brought only a dollar in added revenue.

Increased spending on other sports brought diminishing returns: roughly 25 cents in additional revenue for every additional dollar spent.

Spending changes had no impact on win-loss records. Or on alumni donations. Or on the academic quality of incoming students (based on SAT scores and the percentage of applicants accepted), an indicator of school stature and appeal. Expanded athletic programs appear to be neither the road to riches nor the road to financial ruin."

Spending increases in football and basketball by one or more members of a conference did not bring significant increases by other member schools.

Athletics operating expenses in I-A rose 62% from 1996-97 to 2000-01 ($1.454 billion to $2.357 billion), compared with a 39% rise in total school spending. Mean football expenditures (adjusted to 1996 numbers) were fairly stable from 1993 to 1997 but rose 43% from 1997 to 2001 (from $4.2 million to $6 million). Basketball showed a similar climb, with mean expenditures rising 9% from 1993 to 1997, then 50% in the next four years (from $1.2 million to $1.8 million).

Contrary to popular perception, football spending has increased less rapidly than overall athletics spending in I-A since 1985 (without considering coaches' outside income and capital expenditures). The biggest spending jumps were in women's sports. Spending on men's sports other than football and basketball decreased.

Nearly two-thirds of all I-A football programs showed a profit in 2001, and the sport — by far — produced the most revenue (a median of $1.7 million).

Schools already investing the most in football, ranking in the top 10% in expenses, stepped up their spending the most (by 46% from 1993 to 2001). The bottom quarter of I-A, based on spending, increased expenditures by a more modest 23%. The trend was similar in basketball. There's also a huge disparity in football profits, with programs in the top 10% averaging $13.3 million in net revenue in 2000-01 and the bottom quarter losing an average of $1 million.

Two of every five I-A athletics programs said they operated in the black in 2001. But if state and school subsidies are removed, only 6% operated in the black.

Athletics expenses are a relatively small share of overall spending by schools in NCAA Division I-A, accounting for roughly 3.5% of all expenditures in 2001 (up from a 3% share in 1997)

Schools in the Western Athletic Conference devoted the largest share of overall spending to athletics (6.2%) in 2000-01. Big Ten schools, with an average enrollment of more than 36,000 outside of Northwestern, devoted the smallest share (1.9%). The rest of I-A, from top to bottom: Conference USA (4.9%), Big 12 (4.8%), Southeastern Conference (4.5%), Mountain West (3.8%), Sun Belt (3.5%), Atlantic Coast Conference (3.4%), Big East (3.4%), Mid-American (3.2%) and Pacific-10 (2.6%).

A caveat for interpreting athletic finances is that capital expenses are not included in this analysis, and as conveyed by Ohio State athletic director, Andy Geiger (NCAA.Org, 2003, Aug. 22): "The dynamic in our business is with facilities. That's where the arms race is." Geiger goes on to point out that Ohio State is in the process of renovating its 80 year old football stadium that will cost $197 million! Nonetheless, he also conveys that amortized over 30 years, this reduces to an annual cost of  only $14 million!  He anticipates that additional revenue will offset this increment. But, of course, this presupposes that Ohio State has a successful team to attract both T.V. revenue and people willing to pay higher ticket costs.

Finally, to provide some perspective on all of these numbers, Wieberg (2003, Table 5) articulated the various elements composing a  D I-A, athletics’ budget while comparing average figures to the University of Florida which has one of the largest programs in the nation. Seemingly, although athletics is a relatively small percentage of an institution’s operating budget, costs are not trivial.

Another interesting comparison is to compare average costs at a D I university with average costs at a D III institution. Fulks (2002b) provides data showing that, on average, overall program costs for a D III program in 2001 was $1,248,000 in contrast to a D IA program which was @22,719,000. Seemingly, there are very dramatic differences of what goes on across divisions, but a critical question that typically is not addressed concerns the effect athletic participation has on the athletes engaged, and whether the additional costs, and all that goes with this at D I is worth the difference in expenditures? From an educational perspective, and the major justification for having athletic programs as part of the extra-curriculum, the answer to this question is of paramount importance.

Reforming the System

From its inception, intercollegiate athletics have been controversial. Indeed, even in its infancy during the period 1852 to 1860, the Yale Faculty felt that crew competition with Harvard was so disruptive to students that they banned future competitions (Lucas, & Smith 1978). As well, the creation of the NCAA itself during the period 1905 to 1910 was a response to injuries and deaths resulting from football. Perhaps the most comprehensive and influential examination of intercollegiates during the first half of the century came from the Carnegie Foundation (Savage et al., 1929). In this document commercialization and professionalization of college sports was lamented, as were the many abuses that continue to this day including, recruiting irregularities, time conflict between academics and athletics, the limited number of participants who actually participate, and negative booster involvement. More recently we have had the Knight Commission (Knight Commission, 1991) which stated that the problems in intercollegiate athletics were so serious and systemic that re-thinking of the fundamental premises upon which college sports were based was necessary.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable criticisms of big time college sports come from Walter Byers (1995), NCAA executive director from 1951 to 1987. Byers ruled this organization during the period when the NCAA grew into a multi-million dollar operation, and expanded its control over an increasing number of sports, including those programs organized and run by women. In his book, Byers argues against the plantation system of cultivating and controlling athletes that evolved during his watch. He even goes so far as to say that athletes should be paid a reasonable wage for the money they generate in high profile football and basketball programs. In a speech given prior to the release of his book, Byers stated that: ''The coach owns the athlete's feet, the college owns the athlete's body, and the athlete's mind is supposed to comprehend a rule book that I challenge..." (McCallum and Obrien, 1994). Byers also claims that the NCAA uses the notions of "amateurism" and "level playing field" as a diversion to distribute money in ways that best support a misguided system. The beneficiaries of college sports, in Byers view, are colleges, coaches and administrators to a much greater extent than athletes. With these criticism coming from the ultimate insider, it is indeed perplexing to ponder why after so many years, with so many commissions, and so many suggestions for reform, so little has changed?

Certainly, college athletics has had more than its share of problems and critics. Notwithstanding, it continues to grow and thrive despite all of its problems. Consequently, the issue today is one of evolution toward changes that would make it more compatible with the central mission of higher education. An examination of the philosophy statements from the various NCAA Division manuals is probably as good a starting point as any to determine what athletics should contribute to a student-athlete's development. Common to all divisions is the statement:

The competitive athletics programs of member institutions are designed to be a vital part of the educational system. A basic purpose of this Association is to maintain intercollegiate athletics as an integral part of the educational program and the athlete as an integral part of the student body and, by so doing, retain a clear line of demarcation between intercollegiate athletics and professional sports.

Clearly, this is an admirable idea which varies greatly in operationalization. But, even those who enjoy and support college athletics would have difficulty agreeing that its intent has been faithfully realized when considering "big time" football and basketball programs. The vast sums of money involved, the payment of extraordinary large salaries to coaches, the extravagant facilities used by only a few, the intensity of recruiting athletes that are sometimes only marginal or below marginal students, the travel required during school time, the long hours athletes devote to sport relative to academics, and the television and media exposure all work to create a system that not only separates sports from other programs at an institution, but also to separate athletes from their student peers. In regard to fulfilling the objectives presented in the NCAA’s statement, one would have to conclude that many colleges and universities do not take it seriously, or are deluding themselves into believing that their programs are in accordance with its intent. Simply stated, too much history exists to flatly accept the phrase "...a clear line of demarcation between intercollegiate athletics and professional sports" exists. When the NCAA is being paid $1.75 billion dollars by CBS to broadcast its men’s basketball championship, and major football conferences are realigning themselves to better realize the hundreds of millions of dollars up for grabs from broadcasting rights (Barnhart, 1998), it is difficult to understand how amateurism and commercialism can co-exist.

Indeed, the NCAA has recently renegotiated its contract with CBS to broadcast the Men's Division 1 basketball championships, and now calls for $6 billion over 11 years (NCAA News, 1999). This results in an average payout of $545 million a year, which is over a 100% increment over the average $216 million it receives in its present $1.75 billion deal. Table 4 below shows the increasing trend in income provided to the NCAA by its television revenue from this tournament. Obviously, the amount of money involved in broadcasting a very commercial product, increases the difficulty of separating amateur and professional sports, despite the NCAA's intentions.

Table 4. Television revenue of NCAA 1981 -1999


Total Deal

Average Yearly Payout


$48 million

$48 million


$55.3 million

$55.3 million


$166 million

$166 million


$1 billion/7 years

$143 million


$1.725 billion/8 years

$216 million


$6 billion/11 years

$545 million


Over the years a plethora of suggestions for reforming big-time intercollegiate athletics have been proposed. These have run the gamut from abolishing them all-together to "tweaking" the system when a particular problem arises.

Abolishing Intercollegiates. The idea of abolishing intercollegiate athletics has been around for many years. When the Yale Faculty banned competition against Harvard after several regattas during the 1850s it was, in essence, showing its wrath toward the disruptive affects that athletic competition was having on its students. When Chancellor of New York University, Henry McCracken called for a national meeting in 1905 to either transform or abolish collegiate football, because of brutality and death on the field, he was questioning whether such an activity had a place in academia (Lucas and Smith, 1978). When President of the University of Chicago, Robert Hutchins decided to discard its football program in 1929, he was unable to reconcile the rift between intellectual development and mass entertainment (Lawson and Ingham, 1980). When CCNY decided to back away from big-time basketball after its scandalous 1950-1951 season, it too was having difficulty justifying its importance as an adjunct to promoting academic excellence. Indeed, these examples, and many others that could be conveyed, have the basic theme that big-time intercollegiates are more of a liability than an asset to colleges, and that their elimination may be warranted.

More recently, Hochfield (1987), in response to his university deciding to go from Division III to Division I, argues that athletic excellence and academic excellence are incompatible. He states:

The plain, irreducible truth is that there is no rational connection between higher education and professional sports, and universities ought to do other things than field football and basketball teams as ways of distinguishing themselves (p. 40).

He goes on to debunk all the stereotypical arguments for why such programs are good for a campus (e.g., publicity, school spirit, income, etc.), and then declares: "The plain realities are that the athletes must pretend to be students, and the universities must pretend to be interested in their education" (p. 41). For him, and others, academia is primarily about conveying "... the best, most truthful, most interesting and important culture that mankind possesses from one generation to the next" (p. 43). Any activities which interfere with this process does not belong, and, according to him, "big-time" athletics is such an activity.

For the most part, while such arguments appear compelling, few institutions have opted to eliminate their "big-time" programs, although several have taken this step. For example, Tulane dropped its basketball program in 1985 because of a scandal, yet in 1986 donations rose by $5 million dollars. Similarly, Wicthita State University dropped is dept ridden football program, and despite warnings that alumni support would diminish, donations nearly doubled in a short time period, as did enrollments (Lederman, 1988). When Father William Sullivan, President of Seattle University, with the support of trustees and faculty eliminated its Division I basketball program in favor of NAIA to save money in 1980, critics warned of dire consequences. However, by 1986 Deford (1986) reported that alumni giving had actually increased every year since the program was de-emphasized. As well, student enrollments had increased by 15%. Money previously used for athletic scholarships was reallocated for academic awards, and the intramural program was expanded. Father Sullivan concluded from the experience:

… its clear that with a few exceptions, alumni support their university because of their education and not because of the fact that for a few times during the course of their undergraduate years they sat in the bleachers and watched somebody else dribble up and down the court or run across a field" (p. 70).

Notwithstanding these isolated cases, the pressures to maintain national visibility in athletics is increasing, as evidenced by realignments in football conferences that are taking place for the purpose of presenting a more desirable television package to broadcasters. As well, the belief in its publicity and entertainment value in attracting students, in cultivating alumni and community support, and in generating income to pay for non-revenue producing sports continues. Despite the difficulty of refuting arguments related to the incompatibility of athletics and academics, reform by abolition is not really viable in today’s climate.

De-emphasizing. A less severe approach to reform would be that of de-emphasizing professionalized programs and making them more like those found in Division III. For example, if one were to compare Division I-A and Division III NESCAC schools they would find that the latter award no athletic scholarships, have significantly shorter seasons, demand less practice time of their athletes each week, spend less on facilities and equipment, do not fire competent coaches because of their won-loss records, and generate virtually no income (Looney, 1994). As well, although some recruiting is done, many students who are not recruited can often participate on a team as a "walk-on." In fact, as conveyed by Underwood (1975), at Division III schools like MIT maximum participation is the goal, and no one really cares whether spectators show up for an event. This is not to say that athletes in such programs do not care about winning, they do. But they also care about balance, and everyone agrees that the reason why students should be in college is first, and foremost, to get an education.

A school which has successfully moved from Division I to Division III in recent years is Hardin-Simmons College in West-Texas (Blum, 1994). The decision was based on the desire to bring back its football program, which it was unable to afford at a Division I level. At the time the move was made, there were a number of disgruntled athletes and coaches who wished to continue in Division I, but as they left and were replaced by new athletes, coaches, and a president with a different mind set, the transition appeared to be a success. Indeed, Blum gives the view of Jim Jennings , a former football player from Hardin-Simmons who graduated in 1932, and has remained a season’s ticket holder for basketball, and now attends their home football games: "Basketball is basketball. Football is football. It's exciting if it's your team, and it's exciting if the game is competitive. We don't need to be in any certain division to have a good time" (A35). While spectator entertainment is no longer a necessity for Hardin-Simmons, this comment seems to suggest that Division III competition can be every bit as exhilarating as that found in Division I. However, schools can focus on their primary mission of educating students and promoting scholarship, rather than having to operate a professional sports program which may undermine its integrity.

Despite the rationality of such an approach it is unlikely that many schools are interested in moving into Division III from Divisions I or II. Indeed, as conveyed by Blum (1994), since 1981 three institutions moved from Division I to Division III, while 40 entered Division I, with many others interested in moving up. As with such endeavors, the trend appears to be "up" rather than down, mediated by the belief that somehow an institution that does so will be able to escape from obscurity and share in all the alleged benefits of the "big-time" without enduring its many disadvantages.

Unfortunately, the reality is that breaking into Division I, and being an instant success is not very probable. Conferences have been picking and choosing among its strongest members, and have virtually shut the door to weaker programs, which invariably newer ones will be (Selingo, 1997). As well, recruiting athletes for such programs seemingly will be more difficult, with the better ones wishing to attend more high profile institutions who have already established themselves as evidenced by their national stature, facilities, and media deals. Consequently, while the virtues of Division III have been espoused by those who are there, and many critics of "big-time" college sports, it is more than likely that a move towards de-emphasis will not be popular, and certainly not be part of a major reform movement in college athletics. 

Better Faculty and Presidential Control. Since the 19th century there have been numerous calls for tighter control over athletics, but because it was a student run endeavor from its inception, the issue of who should take the lead has been equivocal. As Chu (1989) points out the first attempt at control was to fold intercollegiates into physical education, with faculty from this department given the responsibility for the "athletics curriculum." However, as pointed out by the Carnegie Commission Report in 1929 (Savage et al., 1929), this effort to take control of athletics was quite suspect, as their data showed that of 177 directors of departments which encompassed physical education and athletics only 23 had actually majored in physical education, and 85% claimed that their stature as football coaches was primarily responsible for themselves being hired. Consequently, it appeared that instead of real faculty control of athletics, coaches were simply given faculty appointments in order to quell calls for greater faculty oversight.

More recently, Sperber (1991) suggests that because various attempts at reforming intercollegiate athletics have failed, the best last hope still lies with college faculties, but with a variation from previous themes. He argues that faculty athletic committees, as constituted by the NCAA, could conceivably oversee and control what athletic departments do if they wished to take the initiative. This would mean that such committees would be selected by faculty councils or senates rather than by administrative appointment. Their mission would be to examine the financial books of a department, as well as assess and regulate admission’s policy and practices in order to guarantee academic integrity. Of course, members of such an enterprise would be required to maintain their own integrity by refraining from accepting perks typically offered to faculty representatives, such as game tickets and trips to post season championships, that characterize the status quo, and compromise many current oversight committees.

While suggestions for greater faculty control have always seemed reasonable in theory, they have stood little chance of success in practice. Faculties, with or without an NCAA mandate, have always had the choice of playing a greater role in overseeing athletics, but have rarely exercised the option. Even if a particularly inspired faculty, in one or two institutions decided to do so, it is unlikely that faculties across the nation would be likely to follow suit. One basic problem is that faculty are primarily focused and rewarded for their scholarship and teaching, not providing institutional service or reforming and governing extracurricular activities (e.g., Williams, et al., 1987). As well, faculty also normally work within a highly departmentalized environment in which a major concern is maintaining, or increasing one’s own turf by building alliances, not antagonizing other constituencies. Favorable relations with the administration, other departments, trustees, and the community are worth cultivating. Seemingly, real faculty reformers would need to be willing to sacrifice personal rewards by spending inordinate amounts of their time and energy battling the athletic behemoth. This is not to say that faculty are not the appropriate body to take the lead, as the idea seems to emerge periodically, but that the possibility of faculty rising up to reign in athletics is not a likely scenario in the near future. The rewards for such action are small in relation to potential grief that may accrue to those wishing to upset the system.

If faculty have not come to the fore to reform intercollegiates, the idea that presidents should take charge has been proposed many times over the years. Indeed, it was the presidents who first embraced intercollegiates in their earlier days because they saw its potential as a medium to advertise their institution, attract students, and gain alumni support. The example of President John Swain of Swarthmore, at the turn of the century, imposing a football program on his campus because he believed it enhanced institutional well-being, despite faculty resistance, illustrates how a president can assert his will (Clark, 1970). The power of the president was also demonstrated by Robert Hutchins at the University of Chicago who was instrumental in dismantling a popular "big-time" program, because he did not think that it was part of the institutions mission. Of course when Hutchins did this Chicago was thriving, and he could afford to be somewhat cavalier, where other schools were still struggling to stay afloat. Nonetheless, these examples illustrate how presidential power can be asserted despite resistance to change coming from a number of factions.

The notion of presidential control seems reasonable in light of their institutional role and position vis à vis faculty and other constituencies. Most recently, this notion was proposed by the Knight Commission (1991) which recommended that presidents should take over control of their own athletics programs, conferences in which they compete, and the NCAA. The Commission also stated that trustees and regents should stop being a roadblock to presidents and let them pursue reform. Interestingly, this recommendation followed a decade during which the presidents did attempt to take over control of the NCAA, but failed. Sperber (1990) points out that the American Council on Education in 1979, like many groups before them, called for major reforms in college athletics, and ultimately recommended that a President’s Board oversee the NCAA with the authority to veto or modify NCAA rules, and to create additional rules, subject to approval by presidents of all NCAA institutions.

The idea for such a dramatic change was to wrestle control of athletics out of the hands of athletic directors, coaches, and sympathetic faculty representatives in order to bring "... athletics in line with the educational missions of their schools" (Sperber, 1990, p. 333). But, such a change was not to be, as the President of the NCAA claimed that such a group would not really reflect the will of its members, which is more accurately expressed through its own executive board made up of forty-six members which include, athletic directors, coaches, faculty representatives, and college presidents. Instead of getting the powerful president’s board, a President’s Commission was approved which had only "advisory powers." While this group has had good intentions, and many worthy ideas such as shortening seasons, reducing the number of athletic scholarships, and shortening the athletic "work week" , it has not been able to significantly impact the "big business" model of Division I programs.

That presidents were unable to take control of the NCAA, perhaps, reflects how times have changed, as have the roles and powers of the president. In fact, as pointed out by (Jacobson, 1984), the position of college president seems to be in trouble because of the diversity of responsibilities encompassed by the job. Cole (1985) points out that the modern day college president is expected to be institutional visionary, image builder, fund raiser, financial manager, head of administration, problem mediator, marketing executive, faculty advocate, academic planner, student mentor, ceremonial official, moral guide, government liaison, trustee advisor and community leader. Birnbaum (1992) further conveys that because the president’s role is so diverse and demanding, it is essential that he or she build support from various constituencies. This requires great finesse and talent in engaging and convincing factions about the merits of moving in a particular direction, rather than imposing completed plans from the top. With such diverse roles, and so many people to satisfy, the present day president is only a distant relation to his historical counterpart. Indeed, responsibilities have grown, but direct power has waned. It is not surprising that few people are very successful in fulfilling the demands of the position, or remain in office for more than just a few years.

Consequently, the modern day president finds himself spread thinly over a vast empire, with athletics being only one of a large number of programs, or problems requiring attention. As well, it is generally perceived as one of those areas that normally is not of central concern to a chief executive. Yet, it is an area that is often deeply charged with emotion, and one which can get a college president into deep trouble if he or she attempts to take control and tamper with the system. While the position of president may connote vast powers, great resources, and the capacity to effect change, it really appears to have become more about managing, rather than leading.

Perhaps, a case which illustrates a presidents inability to really make a difference in athletics is that of William Atchley, a former president of Clemson University (Monaghan, 1985). While Clemson had won the national championship in football in 1981, it also had been sanctioned by the NCAA in men’s basketball (1975-1978) and football (1982-1984) for a variety of violations. Subsequently, it was reported that some athletes were involved with illicit drugs, and that alumni, who had donated $5 million annually to athletics, were also giving money to players "under the table". Recruiting violations were also involved. Atchley, in an effort to clean-up the mess, asked trustees for their support. They refused and, instead, forced him to resign!

Given the complexity of the position, and the deeply entrenched athletic establishment, it is no wonder that presidents have backed away from making major changes in college sports. Essentially, they have tweaked the system, but have not put their jobs on the line to do what critics throughout the years have consistently said needed to be done. Commercialism remains rampant, budgets are in the red, TV determines schedules, travel is extensive, winning is critical for generating spectator interest, recruiting is essential for winning, and coaches are the highest paid employees on campus . And, as always, questions remain about whether or not athletes are students first and athletes second, or just athletes. Even legendary coach Bear Bryant thought the enterprise hypocritical when he stated:

I used to go along with the idea that football players on scholarship were ‘student-athletes,’ which is what the NCAA calls them. Meaning a student first, an athlete second. We were kidding ourselves, trying to make it more palatable to the academicians. We don’t have to say that and we shouldn’t. At the level we play, the boy is really an athlete first and a student second. (Michener, 1976, p. 254).


The Professional Model. So if the NCAA, faculty and college presidents are unlikely to make systemic reforms in "big-time" college sports, and it is unlikely that they will be abolished or de-emphasized any time soon, what other alternatives are there? Must we simply learn to live with them, and accept the normal procession of rules violations and roguish behavior, all in the quest to win games, fill stadiums, and bring "honor and prestige" to the university? Or is it time to admit that attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole will just not work, and consider more unique approaches to solving the athletic-academic puzzle?

Perhaps the most novel, but controversial idea is simply to acknowledge the professional and commercial nature of intercollegiate athletics and develop a system to regulate it. Michener (1976) made such a suggestion arguing for a four division model in which the first division would consist of the super powers of college sports. These institutions would consist of the high profile football and basketball schools that wish to play against the most competitive programs in the country. Athletes in such programs would not be required to be students unless they were qualified and interested in doing so. They would be paid in relation to market rates. In Michener’s proposal, schools in the second division would be those presently in Division I, but unable to keep up with the superpowers. Here he proposes that athletes would continue to receive athletic scholarships, but they would only be permitted to take one course while in season, so that they would be able to do justice to their academic work, while rightfully placing athletics as their top priority. He suggests that athletes in this division could take a full academic load in the off season, and attend summer school in order to graduate on time, or in a five year time period.

While the specifics of this proposal are somewhat sketchy, conceptually it is a dramatic paradigm change from the past 150 years. It acknowledges, as Bear Bryant pointed out, that individuals in "big time" programs are athletes first and students second, rather than the reverse. While the notion of "student-athlete" has been a worthy ideal, the reality of putting in 40 to 60 hours a week practicing, working-out, traveling and competing has confirmed that the student part of the equation needs revamping. Dropping the requirement for athletes to be students in the first division would also eliminate the need to satisfy ridiculously low standards for individuals to qualify for scholarships, as decreed by Propositions 48 and 42. As well schools would not be pressured into accepting persons who were ill prepared to do college work. The athletic department would simply sign individuals as athletes. If these persons were able and interested in taking courses and pursuing a degree, that would be their option. Presumably, individuals interested in athletics in the second division would also be interested in pursing academic work, since if they were only interested in being athletes they could opt for the first division. As well, the reduction in course work during a season would help foster quality in academics since it acknowledges the importance of attending to different activities at different times of the year, rather than living in a state of constant overload.

The idea that big-time college athletices should be paid was recently discussed at a forum held at the St. John’s University Law School (Steven, 1998). A panel made up of lawyers and former professional athletes unanimously agreed that college athletes should be paid in addition to receiving a scholarship. Scott-McLaughlin, moderator, and a professor at Pace University Law School argued that times have changed, and that Olympic athletes are now getting endorsements, being paid, and no longer need be amateurs. Why should college athletes be any different? As well, a study by Brown (1991) concluded that the NCAA "cartel", operationalized through Division I-A football programs and guidelines for athletic grants in aid, has prevented many of the best players from being paid according to their real economic value by as much as $500,000 per season! While questions remain about who should be paid, and how much they should get, critics have become increasing vocal regarding the disparity between player "salaries", and those given to others, such as coaches, who often have seven figure compensation packages.

Interestingly, where the NCAA and colleges have been reluctant to accept the idea of paying athletes, private entrepreneurs are attempting to fill the gap (Krupa, 1998). For men’s basketball it has been observed that players today have few options. According to agent Andrew Brandt, "If you are a young male basketball player in this country who seeks to play at the professional level, you have access either to a league where the average pay is $ 2.4 million or another league where the average pay is $15,000 and there is no in between" (Krupa, 1998, p. C1). Consequently three new leagues are being proposed, the Collegiate Professional Basketball League, The National Rookie League, and the International Basketball League. The idea upon which these leagues are being formulated is that many talented high school basketball players are not ready for playing in the NBA, ineligible academically to participate in college, not interested in pursuing academics, or unable financially to participate on the college level, and would prefer to simply make a living playing basketball. Consequently, like baseball, these leagues would become a farm system for the NBA, instead of using colleges, with all of their restrictions, to cultivate talent. Interestingly, each league intends to offer some money for a college education when, and if, players are ready to pursue such. As well, leagues plan to offer training for life as a professional athlete. Richard Lapchick, Director of the Center for the Study of Sports in Society at Northeastern University has agreed to direct the player education component for the International Basketball League.

Perhaps the most interesting of the three startup leagues is the Collegiate Professional Basketball League, conception of Babson College accounting professor Paul McMann (Veverka, 1998). Recognizing the hypocrisy of "big-time" programs which includes coaches making large sums of money that only trickles down to players in the form of scholarships, and players inability to concentrate on academics and graduate, McMann has created a unique system for resolving these issues. His idea is to recruit college eligible players, pay them $9000 a year and give them a signing bonus of $5000. Players would also receive free tuition, room, and board for eight years, rather than 4. Furthermore, they would be required to attend a minimum of eight weeks of classes during the off season at the University of Maryland Eastern Shores. In addition, if a player wished to attend a trade school, or another university in addition to Maryland Eastern Shores, the league would pay for this. As well, players who earn a degree in four years would get a $10,000 bonus, and those who receive a degree in less than eight years would receive $2,500. While the league still has a way to go in securing corporate sponsorship, it provides a very interesting model for radical reform in "big-time" college athletics. Rather than trying to change the system from within, it by-passes years of entrenchment and hypocrisy in the NCAA, and provides a model for how athletics and academics can work in concert.

In reality, it is unlikely that any of these efforts will succeed because of the need to secure financing from skeptical lenders, the long standing identification that people have with their favorite universities, and the large sums of money already invested in college sports by the media and corporate sponsors. But, the concept of making the roll of student-athlete more realistic by extending the duration during which they may pursue academic work, and increasing the financial support to do so, are likely to be topics of discussion within NCAA circles, as outside competition for players increase.

What would such a plan accomplish if adapted for institutions presently engaged in "big-time" sports? First, it would eliminate the chronic conflict between athletics and academics. Individuals could give their full attention to each. With four years of athletic eligibility and eight years of scholarship aid there would be ample time for participants to focus on both areas. Second, athletes in such programs would be permitted to earn a descent income for their participation, something that coaches and universities already do. Indeed, the argument that athletes receive a scholarship, and that this is ample reward for their involvement may be compelling in programs which operate on the financial margin, but not in programs where universities and coaches earn millions from what their athletes do on the fields and in the gymnasiums. Presumably, being paid to play would also dissuade athletes from taking money under the table, or becoming involved in other illegal or unethical activities. Third, financial incentives for graduating within a specified period would surely be more reinforcing in producing serious academic accomplishment than verbal encouragement emphasizing the importance of a degree in life after sports. Seemingly this message has been around for many years, but has not been taken seriously by thousands who have little to show for four years of attending college. Finally, such a plan would help eliminate the hypocrisy of trying to run a professional athletics’ program within an amateur framework. Athletes, like their coaches, and Olympic counterparts, would be permitted to endorse products, or earn income in any other legal endeavor. As well, such athletic programs would not draw financial resources away from other areas of the university to offset deficits, since programs would need to be self-sustaining. As well, NCAA rules could be vastly reduced since athletes would become employees of institutions, rather than a special class of student, requiring extraordinary monitoring and guidance.

As with most ideas which relate to professionalizing college athletics, a number of lingering questions must be addressed, especially if the NCAA were to agree to a plan. One which needs to be resolved is how many athletes and teams would be included in the scheme. As already indicated, most colleges involved in Division I already lose money, so adding the additional expense of paying athletes could conceivably send budgets even deeper into the red. But in examining the data for football and men’s basketball powerhouse schools, such as those represented in the ACC, one concludes that surpluses for these programs actually do exist and could be used to pay players. However, these surpluses are typically transferred to support other sports which run at a deficit. Consequently, a decision would need to be made regarding whether to continue supporting such programs using another source of funding, eliminating them, or decreasing their expenses. In essence, there is no reason, other than the current NCAA mandate requiring a minimal number of sports and scholarships in Division I, that so called "minor sports" could not be changed to reflect more of a Division III model. Hence, expenses for scholarships, travel, coaching, and facilities could be significantly reduced and folded into a university’s operating budget. As well, with a less high powered approach to so-called "minor sports" more students might have an opportunity to tryout for teams, which presently, are already determined by recruiting. Hence, time involvement could be reduced, and athletes in such programs would more likely reflect the general student population, a basic desideratum of the present NCAA philosophy.

A second issue would relate to whether or not "professionalized" college athletes would be required to be students. Michener’s proposal for his highest division has no such requirement. However, this is probably too radical an idea to be widely embraced today. In contrast, McMann’s plan for balancing academics with athletics over the course of a year and extending the period over which scholarship aid is awarded, rather than requiring individuals to engage in athletics and academics simultaneously, seems to make sense. As well, providing cash incentives for completing degrees also seems worthy of consideration in light of lower graduation rates found in many "big-time" programs today. With such changes, it seems reasonable not to drop the student requirement, which is an essential ingredient of what a college team is supposed to be.

A third issue which is not effectively addressed in the professional model is the impact it would have on recruiting, admissions, and matriculation. Presumably, recruiting would continue to be intense, but it is unclear what impact would befall admissions. Would schools be more or less inclined to take athletes who were ill-prepared to do college work? As well, would there be a rule which required satisfactory progress through a degree program? Considering that athletes would be supported for eight years, it is unclear what this would mean, although details could certainly be worked out. Seemingly, with no academic matriculation requirement during an athlete’s playing days (i. e., more in line with Michener’s proposal), admission’s requirements could be significantly reduced (e. g., no need for such things as Proposition 42), since athlete’s would not become ineligible for academic reasons, just as other university employees do not lose their jobs if they decide to take a course, and do poorly. With such a system, some athletes might even decide to drop -out of school without having taken a course after playing their four years. But, given the opportunity to earn a degree without concomitant demands of athletics, and the financial incentives for doing so, athletes and pundits could no longer accuse institutions of using athletes and then spiting them out without providing the education promised during the recruiting process. The athlete would be solely responsible for obtaining or not obtaining an education.

Finally, a significant problem which would need addressing is how such a plan would meet Title IX guidelines? From the data presented on ACC and Mid American schools, no women’s athletic programs have surplus income. One possibility would be for schools to offer women resources equivalent to those for combined football and men’s basketball programs. Seemingly, this would not be an attractive options since it would eliminate surplus revenue generated from those programs which might already be allocated for player salaries. A second alternative would be to restrict professionalized college programs to teams that can generate profits. For the present this would effectively eliminate women from such involvement, but in a professional model surplus income is a requirement for survival. This does not preclude women, if they so desire, in future professionalized involvement, but it does put an onus on them to generate enough income to support their expenses. Just as with non-revenue producing men’s teams a full complement of women’s teams following a Division III model could be offered.


From this review several things can be surmised. First, collegiate athletic programs vary across a range from being entirely student oriented to being professionalized. Typically, this parallels the divisional classification system of the NCAA with Division III reflecting more of the former, and Division I more of the latter. For the most part, Division I issues, especially those related to football and basketball, have dominated the discussion of collegiate sports because of the large impact they have on college life, and the numerous problems that have arisen over the years. From their earliest years administrators believed that large-scale athletic programs provided not only a recreational outlet for students, but also an advertising instrument which could benefit admissions and fund raising efforts. However, with "big-time" sports have come many abuses. These have included such things as: (a) injuries to players from dangerous techniques, (b) betting and fixing games, (c) acceptance of individuals into colleges who did not have the ability and/or interest in obtaining an education, (d) illegal payments to athletes by boosters, (e) conflict between time required for athletic involvement and time required for academic work, and (f) altering transcripts so that academically ineligible athletes could continue to play. Furthermore, a major consideration in recent times relates to the vast sums of money involved, and the consequences for making or losing money. These pressures have added to the professionalization of "big-time" programs, and moved athletes further away from realizing the role of student-athlete.

Several ideas were proposed to reform the system. On one end of the continuum are proposals for abolishing or de-emphasizing "big-time" sports. This tack, however, seems quite unrealistic during a period of great interest and program expansion. Another idea that has been proposed many times over the years is for faculty and presidents to exert more effective control over athletic organization and administration. However, this too, although being logical, seems unworkable because of the politics of collegiate athletics in America. A final idea which may seem somewhat like caving in to forces already out of control, is to call a spade a spade, and overtly professional "big-time" programs. While this option may be anathema to "purists" it simply acknowledges what already exists, and attempts to create mechanisms to maintain what people seem to like about such programs, and eliminate that which they do not. Interestingly, individuals have already begun to create models for such programs outside of the traditional NCAA paradigm that has been resistant to challenging the notion of "student-athlete.


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