To the Editor:
"What the Hell Has Happened to College Sports?" (The Chronicle, December 11, 2011) is a rhetorical question. Its more pertinent counterpart is: What the hell has happened to the leadership at our institutions that would allow the current state of affairs?
It's not that we haven't been aware of what was happening. The "plantation sports" business model so aggressively defended by our institutions under the guise of "amateurism" can be found in narratives more than two decades old (David Glasner's in Newsweek in 1987, for one). And add the "disgust" palpably exhibited by Rick Telander in Sports Illustrated in 1989 over the criminal behavior, rampant pursuit of money, tunnel vision of coaches, sliminess of boosters, exploitation of players, absurdity of the "student-athlete" notion, and the sanctimonious platitudes of the NCAA pooh-bahs. His summation: "The ugliest part was that these sins were being committed in a world—our universities—that Americans have always assumed to be a realm of virtue and idealism." Sadly, his observations seem benign in comparison with today's levels of avarice and exploitation.
I think Frank Deford and Harry Edwards essentially got it right in your pages—the former suggesting market salaries for football and basketball players, the latter advocating corporate sponsorship to provide a sustainable revenue flow without surreptitiously siphoning off the university's academic funds. The players of "revenue sports" could not, however, be "school employees" as proposed by Mr. Deford. A university's paying its Heisman-, Butkus- or Biletnikoff-award candidate a "market salary" greater than the institution's entire chemistry faculty would expose the charade of the institution's stated academic "mission." No, collegiate sports must be structured as private enterprises largely divorced from institutional (or NCAA) control, as suggested by Mr. Edwards, who envisioned seeing the "X-Oil Corporation" California Bears playing the "Y-Sports Drink" Oregon Ducks.
The autumn game days on our campuses today are wonderfully festive occasions, but they exhibit a quality Dickens described in A Tale of Two Cities: "To the eye it is fair enough, here; but seen in its integrity, under the sky, and by the daylight, it is a crumbling tower of waste, mismanagement, extortion, debt, mortgage, oppression, hunger, nakedness, and suffering." To which Hunter S. Thompson might have added: "There's also a negative side."
James E. Joy
Professor of Biological Sciences