The Future Of College Sports – – Part III

Niels Bohr was a preeminent theoretical physicist in the early part of the 20th Century; he was the first person to posit atomic structure based on quantum levels.  He is also famous for saying:

“It is difficult to predict, especially the future.”

I have been wading in the pool of predictions relative to the future of college sports for the last couple of days and hope to bring this to a close today.  [Aside:  I heard someone in the back of the room mutter, “Thank the Lord!” and I felt that remark.]

With players about to be “paid to play” and with the current existence of the Transfer Portal, what you have on hand is a situation where every player is a college football/basketball free agent year after year.  I have already commented on the effect on “eligibility” and “enrollment” and “pursuit of a degree” under those circumstances.  In addition, it seems to me that this makes college athletes employees of the Athletic Department.

  • There are tasks to be performed – – games to be played to bring in revenue.
  • There are tasks to be performed – – to prepare to play those games.
  • People are hired to do those jobs and are paid cash money for their services.

That sounds like an employer/employee relationship to me.  So, somewhere in the future, it would seem that the school and/or the Athletic Department should be generating W-2 forms for the players who would then pay taxes on their earnings.  Schools would also need to contribute FICA tax to the Federal coffers for the players as well as Medicare deductions.  I don’t know if college sports will go all the way down this road, but it sounds to me as if there is a huge possibility that college football and college basketball will become not much more than an oversized minor league/prep league for the NFL and the NBA.  [Aside:  I suspect that any real progress along that line by college football would be a significant negative event for the UFL and professional Spring Football.]

I have read in various places that there should be a salary cap for teams as a means of trying to keep the playing field level.  There is logic to that; Big 10 schools are going to take in lots more revenue than Sun Belt schools; ergo …  Here are a couple of problems I see with that thinking:

  • Who is going to enforce the salary cap?  Whatever is left of the NCAA – – the entity that was just found in violation of the anti-trust laws?
  • Isn’t a salary cap itself a violation of the anti-trust laws unless it is created in a Collective Bargaining Agreement between owners/employers and players/employees?
  • Collective Bargaining Agreements arise from negotiations between employers and a recognized union representing employees.  So, college athletes would have to unionize to allow for a situation to evolve that could limit their pay.  Not a lot of motivation there …

I have long advocated a system whereby Athletic Departments and schools are separate entities with contractual affiliations.  The school educates students, and the faculty pursues research and knowledge; the Athletic Department hires mercenary players and tries to win games and make a profit.  For those players who are interested in and who are academically prepared to take courses in pursuit of a degree, the school would admit those players at a reduced tuition rate so long as they remained in the employ of the Athletic Department.

The Athletic Department in this model is a for-profit entity and would be taxed and audited just as if it were National Veeblefetzer Inc.  The schools would maintain their tax-free status even regarding money it received from its affiliated Athletic Department by dint of their contractual arrangement(s).  And in my model, there are two major potential disruptions of the status quo:

  1. Since my formulation of future Athletic Departments has them existing as for-profit entities, any contributions to those Departments by “boosters” may continue at the pleasure of the “booster”.  However, those contributions would not be tax-deductible because the Athletic Department would be recognized for what it is – – a for-profit entity.  Any or all donations to the college would still be tax-deductible so long as they went solely toward academic pursuits such as building a library or funding a professor’s research into something like the needlepoint artistry of the Visigoths.
  2. I am not an attorney, but it seems to me that my formulation might take Title IX and move it to the sidelines instead of putting it in the center of everything.  On one hand, Athletic Departments would not be in receipt of Federal Funds so one could argue that regulations imposed by Title IX would be negated since Title IX prohibits sex-discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the Federal Government.  The school would still have to adhere to Title IX, but the Athletic Department?  [Aside:  Perhaps the Congress could pass new legislation using its power to control and regulate interstate commerce as a way to get some sort of Title-IX-like regulation back into college sports?]

So, where are college sports heading?  Truthfully, I really don’t know.  There are way too many potential forks in the road ahead to allow me to feel confident about almost anything except the obvious.  College sports 10 years from now will be very different from what college sports were last year.  For example:

  • Is all the “conference realignment chaos” finished?
  • Or might the “elite elements” of the Big-10 and the “elite elements” of the SEC and the “elite elements” of the Big-12 and the “elite elements” of the ACC leave their “lesser brethren” behind and form the “Titanic Powerhouse Conference”?
  • Why not?
  • Will Congress “get involved” here?  If so, the range of uncertain futures expands exponentially as new regulations and new oversight mechanisms will necessarily have to come into existence.  Personally, I would hope that the Congress would heed the words of a former Congressman, Daniel P. Moynihan (D-NY) and effect a “period of benign neglect” on college sports.

Finally, I took up this subject after reading – – and quoting – – Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot.  It seems proper therefore, to close here with another paragraph from that same column that kicked this snowball over the cliff:

“For many schools, pay for play comes at a bad time. In the next decade, colleges will experience lower enrollments due to declining birth rates, which translates to less tuition money to go around. There’s a lot more here to contemplate than how much the star quarterback or point guard will rake in.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “The Future Of College Sports – – Part III”

  1. Curmudgeon –
    To show that you are not alone in some of your implied prognostications: in a recent discussion I had with an individual who is the leading figure in the creation of the “NIL Collective” of a certain academic institution that is near and dear to my heart (and to one of your sons) – a school that is currently a major player in a major conference – he made it clear that he expects the equivalent of your “Titanic Powerhouse Conference” to be in place within 2 years….

    1. Pete:

      Good to hear from you again…

      For the revenue sports and for the major schools in the major conferences, this would be a financial bonanza. for the non revenue sports and the minor conferences, this will make it difficult to keep a large intercollegiate sports entity up and running.

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