Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Skip Oliva on College Sports

As a former collegiate athlete at the University of Tennessee (track and cross-country, 1971-75), I have been blessed to have an inside view of college sports. I admit to following UT and other college sports and have no regrets about being part of that system.

However, as Skip Oliva notes in this article on Lew Rockwell's Page, there are real problems with that system, and they are borne of the hypocritical notion that colleges and universities are "protecting amateur athletics," as though this were a Holy Cause. Furthermore, we often fail to understand what really is behind this notion of "cheating" as defined by the NCAA and its groupies in the mainstream media.

Being that I saw "cheating" from a different vantage point (and, yes, pretty much everyone in college sports "cheats" at one level or another), my view of all of this is going to be quite different than the view of the typical sports journalist who seems to believe that the NCAA rules stand for All That Is Good And Holy.

As with so many other things in our current body politic that have created so much harm (i.e. the Federal Reserve System, and the exponential growth of federal regulatory agencies), the NCAA is a creation of the Progressive Era and, specifically, the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.

(Yes, TR is a favorite of both Democrats and Republicans because he tried to run his office like a dictatorship, and today we love the "take-charge President," although we probably know in our heart of hearts that the President cannot really be an action hero like we saw on "Air Force One," or, as I call it, "Air Farce One.")

For all of the egalitarian talk that we have coming from our modern colleges and universities, the concept of amateurism was developed precisely to protect the wealthy and privileged from competition from people of the "lower classes."Mr. Oliva writes:
Amateurism itself is a class-based concept. In Walter Camp's day, an amateur was merely a generalist who didn't specialize in a particular sport or hobby. This excluded members of the "working classes," because their specialty in physical labor gave them an unfair advantage over gentlemen of the privileged classes (like Camp). The idea of paying amateur athletes was unnecessary, as their social position made it unnecessary.

By the early 20th century, academics transformed amateurism into a moral code consistent with collectivist principles. Howard Savage, a Carnegie Foundation official in the 1930s, said "professionalism in school and college athletics … is a most serious evil," and that amateurism represented "the moral struggle between force and the uses to which, with the sanction of our civilization, it may be used and should be put." In other words, athletes were barbarians who had to be tamed by the "civilizing" presence of academics. Savage noted that while it was acceptable for students in artistic fields to profit from their work – because they offered "tests of even temper and self-control" – it was never acceptable for athletes to profit from their efforts.


kbp said...

The competition does resemble capitalism in many ways, so it’s a given we’ll probably never see the day when those leading academia will give up their control of anything they presently control. If college level sports went private, the potential for profits not redistributed is an evil in the hearts of many of those leaders.

Doc Ellis said...

Interesting essay.

RL said...

I was a swimmer at Baylor School in Chattanooga 78-82 and then at the University of Florida 82-86. Aside from this most swimmers participate under the auspices of what is now called USA Swimming, but back then the transition was being made from the AAU. I was continually frustrated by the rules against compensation and holding a job. My family was not well off and I was on financial aid to Baylor. I was offered a "sponsorship deal" from Speedo (really just free suits, goggles and a pittance of money) and was told by the AAU that if I took this I'd be banned from competition forever. The NCAA prevented me from supplementing my scholarship by holding ANY job at all (even unrelated to swimming). FINALLY after the 84 Olympics USA Swimming started to give a stipend to those swimmers who were on the National Team Roster. I'm here to tell you that swimming was my JOB. The idea of student-athlete was backwards it was athlete-student and priority was placed as such. At this point the idea of "amateurism" is a joke and I'm sick and tired of the NCAA imposing their silly rules. The recent Reggie Bush Heisman affair is a classic example. The Heisman award has NOTHING to do with the NCAA and any of their rules, but yet they felt compelled by the NCAA to consider rescinding the award. I applaud Reggie Bush for just pre-empting them and saying here take it back and shut up. These schools get millions in compensation on the backs of their athletes and the athletes are allowed not one penny, this is tatamount to indentured servitude.

Anonymous said...

Bingo 8:39 - the schools want the illusion that it should not be about money, then sign lucrative contracts behind your back. It's always about the money. An amateur athlete should at least be allowed to get an income somewhere above the poverty level without being DQd.

William L. Anderson said...

RL, even though you were a Gator, I will forgive you, being we are both Baylor grads and I ABSOLUTELY agree with you on your assessment of the NCAA.

I have thought about a number of issues regarding how these systems work, and the ways that schools "compete," since they cannot compete by allegedly giving someone a "better deal" than a rival college. Now, when I was running at UT, I can tell you that a lot of people got extra (and extra) benefits, some well-compensated, and others like me who got this and that at times.

However, in that era, the NCAA would not investigate unless there were some really big violations. Everyone knew about under-the-table stuff, and we just lived with it. Today, things are much different, and it reminds me of how the government regulatory system works.

Because at heart I still am an academic egghead, I keep thinking there are journal papers just waiting to be written, but I'm trying to wrap my brain around all of it, and everyone knows there is not that much brain in my head to wrap around anything.

In the NCAA's defense, the organization claims that scholarships constitute a form of payment, a present value of future incomes that can be earned by the athlete because he or she has a college degree. That only is partially true because few athletes get full rides in anything but football and basketball, and college expenses are through the roof.

Anyway, thanks for your comments.

RL said...

Well I must admit that I got a "full ride" for the 1st year, and after that in order to free up more scholarship money I was paid "full ride" money under the table and also given a 5th year of money to complete my degree. Do that now and you'll end up testifying before the Senate in all liklihood!
GO BIG RED! Beat McCallie!

Trish said...

Off topic, but I wanted to let those who have prayed for my son, know that his lawyer and hers reached a temporary agreement with phasing back in visitation, four hours to begin with for two Saturdays and then 8 hours, and then full visitation by Dec. We would rather have had full visitation right off the bat, but this is a start!! My son will get to see his kids this Saturday and we our grandchildren!!!

William L. Anderson said...


That sounds about right. Coaches had their ways to get stuff financed back then, and I have no problem at all with someone getting "extra" benefits.

While you were at Baylor, I held the mile (1600) and 880 (800) school records, and my school record in the two-mile (3200) was broken, I believe, in 1980. Today, the records are a good bit faster than what I ran!!

Thanks for posting, Trish. That is good news, and, yes, even a "start" is good considering what the courts have been doing!

Anonymous said...

Great new's Trish. So glad for you guy's, Maybe it will be back to normal before long, because the kids are being hurt the most. It takes a evil person to do that to their Children, But as we know the world is full of them.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone see this stinkin news?!?! I think it's time to jump all over the Chatanooga justice system for allowing this! FURRY!


kbp said...



Big smiles for you and your family Trish!



Trish said...


John said...

Great news Trish!

Just letting everone know I'm still checking in...great post Mr.Anderson. Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Anderson,

How did the University of Tennessee football team compare to the track team in the area of "compensation?" The University of Tennessee football team was nationally famous with large crowds and TV appearances.

I don't think the Tennessee football program was ever in trouble with the NCAA from Neyland's time through the 1970's.

David In TN

William L. Anderson said...


Oh, there was the usual stuff. I remember that players used to get 10 tickets per home game, and they would sell them to boosters. One guy sold 10 Alabama tickets in 1972 to a booster for $100 apiece. That was a lot of money back then. I remember selling two Penn State SRO tickets for $10 apiece and thought I was in clover.

There were cars and the like. Our track athletes had smaller benefits, like being able to use the car of an assistant coach or getting a few bucks here and there.

Today, there is a mass of secondary violations, which are almost impossible NOT to violate. Remember that EVERY penny of money spent when a recruit is in town must be accounted for, or the automatic assumption is that it was spent improperly.

A coach told me that just to get a recruit on campus, he has to fill out 20 pages of documents. That is why I say that the NCAA has become like the government.

Of course, the typical sports reporter acts as though EVERY NCAA rule is holy writ. We economists, of course, take a different view.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Anderson,

Thanks for the reply. I once knew a man who played football at the University of Cincinnati in the 1970's and spent one year on the Pittsburgh Steelers taxi squad. He told me, "They make it easy for you to get a car."

He meant that a football player would have a car to drive around thanks to the boosters. Tennessee football players I expect would do better.

I knew this ex-Cincinnati football player at the time Johnny Majors was forced out as the Tennessee football coach. During a conversation, I remarked that Majors had upset the big-money contributors. He told me, "When those people get mad at the coach, the coach is gone."

David In Tn

William L. Anderson said...

Your friend is right, David. The boosters rule!

Anonymous said...

Oh the NCAA!!! I have a few new words for their acronym, but I will keep it clean. They have become drunk with power & are killing the athletes. How much do we want our best players to stay in school? A LOT!!!! But will it happen with the regime known as the NCAA? Nope. The high school athletic regimes have become just as bad. My hubby is a McCallie grad (sorry Bill) & was an all-city player, one of the best out of McCallie ever. He was recruited, but as a defensive tackle, the larger schools all told him the same thing...."2 inches". So, he didn't play college ball. He could have easily played at a II school, but he wanted to go to UGA. Anyhoo, at the time he played, the private schools were allowed to give "athletic" scholarships. Now they can not. Although TSSAA has separated the private schools from the public schools in athletics, they do not allow it & with the way things are investigated now, McCallie won't even risk alumni paying tuition for a kid to play a sport. It just irks me to no end! It's an even playing field. The private schools, play the private schools & the public, play the public, but the TSSAA has set the rule that PRIVATE schools can not give athletic scholarships. It's a bunch of b.s. A friend of ours child recently had the opportunity to go to McCallie. He passed all of the tests in the highest percentile. He was only able to get partial financial aid & was told if he received full financial aid, he would not be able to play sports. What the hell???

The shocking part comes that Dalton High is still able to get away with their "recruiting", but nothing is done about it.

Ugh! This is a topic which has had us on fire for the last few weeks & now I'm even more fired up.

Go Blue!! (hehehe)