In Defense of Exploitative Cartels

>> Saturday, September 26, 2009

In comments, Nerdlinger writes:

No, I don't support that rule change, because then you don't have college athletics as we know it. You wouldn't have 120 I-A football schools, and you wouldn't have 342 basketball schools. You'd have, I don't know, 45 football schools and 80 or so basketball schools. Paying a fraction of today's player base -- many of whom will go pro anyway -- more, so the vast majority of today's player base will get much less, or nothing. And almost certainly killing most of the interest in college football and basketball along the way, along with most of the non-revenue sports like swimming, wrestling, gymnastics, etc. Whee.
The problems here:

  • The biggest problem is the utter implausibility of the scenario. In case you haven't noticed there's no competitive balance in college athletics now. Most football programs have no chance of competing consistently with Florida or USC, and many football programs aren't profitable, but this hasn't killed interest in college athletics. Many other schools maintain "non-revenue" sports either without football programs or with football programs that are a financial drain. Good programs also greatly outspend programs in many of the approved (i.e., those that don't allow players to be fairly compensated) ways -- coaches, facilities, recruitment, etc. Other schools play football without even offering scholarships -- they won't be affected. I see no reason to believe that permitting universities to fairly compensate players if they choose will dramatically change the landscape of college sports.
  • If you think these arguments are awfully similar to those used to oppose unionization and free agency in baseball -- according to the owners, we had to pay players a fraction of what they were worth to preserve the competitive balance of the glorious fifties, when New York teams constituted 70% of World Series appearances -- well, you're right.
  • Even if parts of this "nightmare" scenario actually came to pass, I wouldn't say they remotely justified the gross exploitation of players. I'm not sure what's sacrosanct about having 120 Division 1-A football teams, exactly. Nor do I think there's anything sacrosanct about the specific number of athletic scholarships (as opposed to other kinds of scholarships) being currently offered. I'm happy to let the chips fall where they may.


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