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?


  1. Amen! I don't think this could have been more well said. On top of all this I feel like Track athletes are more deserving of scholarships. I might just be bias being one of them, but when was the last time anyone saw anything about a track team causing trouble? As mentioned in the post, to be a track athlete you have to be a different kind of athlete. Very few understand the demands of this sport. To think that there are SO many athletes in the NCAA who participate in this sport without scholarships is just crazy. It is the most demand type of exercise on the physical body (and in my opinion mentally as well). Not only are there so many athletes busting their butts just because of pure love the of the sport, this athletes are probably on average getting better grades and being better human beings. It makes me sad to see our society becoming so focused in on the media and the hype of everything. Don't get me wrong, I know there are tons of amazing and deserving football and basketball athletes out there. But there are too many track athletes who go unnoticed, and unappreicated. Just goes to show that the idea of the "American Dream" is not really what our country is about. If it were, the hard work of track athletes would be rewarded. Hopefully, but sadly I doubt, that we will see the day that this will happen. Until then, I'll be silently screaming right beside you Nate.

    P.s. This is Kacee :) I'm on Rhett's computer.

  2. A couple observations:

    1. The system of "exploitation" by universities is a lot fairer than I want to admit, at least among revenue sports. At Georgia Tech, we granted 7.2 million in scholarships alone for 2008-09. They're getting paid 35,000 a year to play and goof off in silly majors.
    2. Non-revenue sports are disproportionately represented based on the income they generate.
    3. However, this is a capitalistic system (with restraints, such as Title IX)in which the existing market is driven almost entirely by demand--if more high-level football could be supplied, there would still be a paying public.
    4. Track and Field/Cross-Country are very different competition environments than Football, Basketball, or Baseball. Unless a school has really good facilities, they may be lucky to run 2 meets each year... and there isn't the ingrained social atmosphere of tailgate-drink [not making LDS joke, just representing the general population]-mostly ignore the game--of which there might be 6 or 7 a year. It simply brings in more money, and they have to feed the beast. Even though this isn't a system "fair" to all student-athletes, it's still providing more money to track and cross-country than would be given outside of state budget allocations.
    5. "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."
    5a. Is it biased? For both sides, yes. What's SUU's ratio of football income to track income? That should be readily available through the AD. What about football expenditures (non-scholarship based) to track expenditures?
    5b. Trackletes are somewhat more specialized than football players. Even a sprinter can't do more than 3-4 events competently.
    5c. It's a lot less expensive for a school to operate a track/cross-country team than a revenue sport. Therefore, there's bound to be more participation due to the offers available.
    6. I know that paying tuition is a "hardship" for a bunch of people--don't get me wrong, I sure don't want to; I'm 40,000 in debt through just three years--but there's probably a notable economic discrepancy between the distance crew and the football team at large universities.

  3. RE: Mullethead

    1. Agreed
    2. They are but I didn't think this was a professional sport association. They force amateurism when money is the basis of regulation throughout.
    3. NCAA is hypocritical b/c they create Title IX saying the opportunity has to be equal between genders then are nowhere near the same philosophy between sports.
    4. Agreed because of the last line even thought this really doesn't apply here.
    5a. Income here really isn't that much different factoring in the large high-school meets we put on and our student body get free admission.
    5b. How many roles does a kicker play?? Quarterback? There's some diversity along the line and elsewhere but think decathlon for a min.
    5c. This point makes no sense.
    6. This should have no bearing on athletic scholarships. Perhaps government grants, loans, etc., but not athletic merit-based awards.

    Basically all your points are directed to administration within an institution where my post is mostly targeting the malfunction of the NCAA and their rules designating that XC/track can only get around 1/4 the scholarships that football does. I didn't even get into AD budgets.

  4. Shoot, not my best clear writing.

    In general, I agree with you, and you're right about individual institutions vs. NCAA. The system absolutely needs to be reformed, because it's simply too big to uniformly apply to all athletes in all sports at all schools.

    3. Remember about demand--which I would venture to say accounts for the malfunction of the NCAA a great deal. Demanding equality between sports might suggest that, in some extreme circumstance, the underwater hockey club could sue for scholarships. Gender-based equality is saying that we value people because of they are people (not that NCAA really cares), while sport-based equality would say that we value their choices equally. Which they don't and probably shouldn't.
    5a. Providing that "public service" justifies the university potentially valuing the sport differently, regardless of income. PR stuff, serving the community, and all.
    5b. I don't remember exactly what my mind was conveying when I wrote that. Probably something like there being 11 players on the field at one time and probably 50 who see action throughout each game, whereas there are maybe 30 on the high side for a track team in a meet. Even fewer as conference/regional/national competition continues-->a track team needs a few really good athletes in a few events to do well, but a football team needs a more distributed effort. I guess. Not much of an argument so much as an observation.
    5c. Eh. I think because it costs less to operate a track program, a school is more likely to have that. The smaller the school, the closer to 0 profit every sport is (even football), so it makes more sense to minimize operating costs. This is pretty much assumption based. But I'm figuring that there are probably many more track programs than football programs (greater than 1.4:1), and each of those needs to have a pretty full roster. Thus, there are more spots available, and there should be higher participation. See the addendum below, also.
    6. Fair point. But "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!?" kind of puts a different spin on it. At the risk of turning this into a race debate--which is not my intention... most of a distance team is going to be white and middle class or above. For sprinters, not usually so. For football or basketball players, also not usually so--they're most often black and typically poorer. Now, I have nothing but perception to back this up. It's definitely true at GT, but probably changes some at D-II or non-technical schools. Given your statement above, I'd venture to say that the value of an education to a black, lower-class basketball player would be greater than to a white, middle-class distance runner who probably is capable of partially financing his own education. That's making a more equitable solution--even though it costs one person a little bit. Forgive me the drama and presumptions of this point. I'm happy to let it alone.

    Oh, shoot. I probably should have mentioned that you need to divide the number of participants for track by 2 (1.9-2.1), since it's open to both men and women. That still wouldn't change your scholarship ratio much, though. Alternately, add the largest women-only sport (that isn't already matched by men, i.e. basketball, baseball-softball) to the participation and scholarship numbers for football.

  5. Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. Without getting into much more detail the only commentary I have on your last post is that as far as schools that sponsor football and schools that sponsor track are very similar. I don't have the exact figures but I'm sure you could find them.

    Also, all the data I used was for men's track/xc only so if you were to double it then it would include men and women.

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