Sunday, March 14, 2010

Money Talks, even in Amateurism

Injustice and Bias in the NCAA

During my college career I’ve been uncharacteristically vocal about all the things around me that I felt weren’t how they “should be.” I’m sure at one time or another it bugged you and I apologize. Now, I could list various instances in which the track or xc program has drawn the short end of the stick throughout the years. It seems to happen too often and in various ways which I can’t really figure out. Oh, and don’t get me started on the inexplicable fact that how well a team performs is in no way correlated to the support that it receives. That would just cause pages of ranting.

Well…even more pages of ranting.

In fact, prepare yourself for a few of those right now.

(don’t act like you didn’t see this coming)

As the title suggests, the scope of this post will not be restricted to SUU but rather to the entire NCAA and across various disciplines. I’m not really sure about how this issue was brought to my attention but over a few years I realized that something wasn’t how it should be. Now before somebody screams the classic “LIFE isn’t fair, Nate!” line at the screen at some point while reading this, take a minute to read it all and just see what I’m talking about then you tell me I don’t have cause for complaint.

The NCAA is a system that is built on the idea that it provides a home for student-athletes to compete during their schooling in amateur sports. In this environment of proposed amateurism, profit should not have any place in the minds of the administrators if their purpose truly is for the benefit of the student-athletes. In fact many have claimed that the NCAA uses athletes like unto slave labor, producing money for the institutions without rightly compensating the athletes. With this small intro I proceed to my question: why does football get more support than track and/or xc at the NCAA level?

Now on what basis am I making the assumption that they truly get more support? I’m getting to it. Not even going into the fact that football receives unequal support nationwide with their pep rallies, massive tailgate parties, huge advertising campaigns and extravagant half-time shows, I’m only going to touch on simple figures that are easily compared. I’m talking scholarship numbers.

I don’t personally have a lot of room to complain as I’ve been extremely blessed to have received support throughout my years of study with an athletic scholarship. But I’m a team player and I’ve got my many teammates’ backs that are doing it for free when others of different sports are given much more not because of their athletic proficiency but for simply choosing the more “popular” sport.

One may argue that since there is more participation in high school football there should be more scholarships available to the disproportionate number of participants and I entirely agree with this position. In fact, I have the most recent participation figures right here (pulls out his briefcase). Yes, football is the most popular men’s sport by participation with track and field following in second.

  1. Football – 1,112,303

  2. Track and Field (Outdoor) - 558,007 (total 789,459 w/xc)

  3. Basketball -545,145

  4. Baseball - 473,184

  5. Soccer - 383,824

  6. Wrestling - 267,378

  7. Cross Country - 231,452

  8. Tennis - 157,165

  9. Golf - 157,062

  10. Swimming and Diving - 130,182

Now logic dictates that in an unbiased system (as the NCAA has tried to create with rules like the famous Title IX requiring even scholarships and participation between men’s and women’s sports) if there are 1.4 high school football players for every runner/thrower/jumper then there should be 1.4 scholarships available for football for every track scholarship. Once again, all of this is on the premise that the NCAA actually cares about its student-athletes equally, regardless of sport. You’re probably wondering, “well, how many scholarships are available?” Here’s the NCAA-mandated limits on scholarship by sport (men):

  • Baseball Scholarships: 11.7
  • Basketball Scholarships: 13
  • Cross Country, Indoor & Outdoor Track and Field Scholarships: 12.6
  • Football Scholarships: 85
  • Golf Scholarships: 4.5
  • Gymnastics Scholarships: 6.3
  • Ice Hockey Scholarships: 18
  • Lacrosse Scholarships: 12.6
  • Soccer Scholarships: 9.9
  • Swimming and Diving Scholarships: 9.9
  • Tennis Scholarships: 4.5
  • Water Polo Scholarships: 4.5
  • Wrestling Scholarships: 9.9

Ok, let me clarify. These are full scholarships we’re talking about, including housing, books, food, and tuition. There are a maximum 12.6 scholarships available for the 3 sports of cross-country, indoor track and outdoor track combined (now girls, you have it better, you get 18 scholarships for some reason, don’t ask me why). There are 85 available for football. 85!!! I’m hoping you’re seeing my point here. That’s a 6.7:1 ratio on scholarships from football to track/xc despite a 1.4:1 ratio on participation. It’s a complete joke and indisputably biased.

In fact, even our beloved Senator Hatch got in on the discussion when he said:

I – and many others – are concerned that all this college football money is turning college sports into nothing more than a minor league for pro football rather than a legitimate educational activity for student athletes.

- Senator Orrin G. Hatch, speaking at the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Hearing

Now the critical reader might recognize that sports like basketball must also be getting the same treatment as track since their high school participation and scholarship limit are similar to those of track/xc, right? To further my point (and to not make football the only bad guy) let’s see what the participation numbers are in the NCAA and see if the number of scholarships line up a little better.

Here are the NCAA team-size averages by sport:

  • Football - 108.7
  • Track/XC - 53.6
  • Basketball 15.6

If this is the average size of each team in the NCAA, what is the ratio of scholarships per athlete already on the team?

  • Football .78 per athlete
  • Track/XC .24 per athlete
  • Basketball .83 per athlete

According to the data provided by the NCAA basketball is even more favored than football! Similar figures can be found in other sports like ice hockey with 18 scholarships. How many players can even fit on the bench in hockey??

By way of conclusion, I want to make a point of something that really bothers me amidst all of this. Using NFL figures, there maximum number of active players on an NFL roster is 53. I hope I don’t have to point this out, but there are upwards of 30 football players on a football team that don’t even touch the field in a game. I’ve had lots of friends that give everything they have on the track, killing themselves with no recompense because they love the sport and want to chase a dream. I see them trying to work a job, going full-time to stay eligible all while meeting the travelling and practice demands of their sport. It depresses me to know that football players are riding the bench game after game and getting it all paid for while the majority of scoring athletes on my team are paying for everything. Is the education of a football (or basketball) player more valuable than that of a runner? In the land of Title IX and Affirmative Action, where is the equality!? It’s not about equality or amateurism in the NCAA, it’s about money. End of story.

Just to add a little fuel to the fire, read this story I found on ESPN.com:


They want even more. You see why I’m not a fan?