Jason Peck, an enterpreneur, internet marketer, consultant, sports business blogger, and friend of mine, read about the College Sport Research Institute 2009 Conference on SportsAgentBlog.com, and decided that he would attend the event due to his close proximity to Chapel Hill and its excellent schedule of events. He wrote up a report from the first day for this site. Here you go (in Jason’s words)…
Today I had a chance to check out the first day of the 2009 College Sport Research Institute (CSRI) Conference in Chapel Hill at the Friday Center. It was great hearing about some of the major issues in college sports and meeting some very interesting people. I especially enjoyed meeting Tim Newman (TimNATC on Twitter), who is the Sport Management Program Coordinator at York College of Pennsylvania, and Jeremy Bloom, who gave a great keynote speech from the perspective of a world-class skier and former college/pro football player who was denied two years of collegiate football eligibility because he accepted endorsements in skiing (that was the only way he could afford the costs of competing).
Here are some notes I took from some of the panels today.
Panel 1 – Special Admit Limbo: How Low Can You Go
The discussion centered around the criteria and amount of student-athletes who are admitted into various schools on a sports scholarship, even though they may not meet the minimum academic requirements for that specific school. Pellom McDaniels (Assistant Professor in the History Department at Univ. of Missouri-Kansas and former NFL defensive end) kicked off the discussion by saying that schools need to be selective in choosing who to admit, but careful that they don’t lump special needs athletes into a category where they don’t see their potential. John Blanchard (Senior Associate Athletic Director, UNC-Chapel Hill) said that the US is the only place in the world where athletics and higher education are so closely tied together and that “this is a question no one wants to talk about publicly.” Carie Leger (Director of Academic Support Programs for Athletes, NC State) mentioned that higher education requirements (during the time that athletes are in school) have led to improved graduation rates. Richard Lapchick (Endowed Chair and Director, DeVos Sport Business Program, Univ. of Central Florida) said that this isn’t a new problem and that another big concern should be the disparity between graduation rates of white athletes vs. black athletes (30% higher for white athletes from teams in this year’s Men’s NCAA Basketball tournament).
I was especially interested in how various universities treat “special admits.” At UMKC, McDaniels said athletes aren’t treated any differently than other students in the admissions process–there’s no specific process just for athletes. Blanchard and Leger mentioned that their schools have certain thresholds that athletes must meet to be admitted, but Lapchick said most schools do not operate like this. Lapchick gave the example that 95% of the football players at Univ. of California-Berkley are special admits, compared to just 2% of the general student body, and 94% of football players at Texas A&M are special admits, compared with 8% of the student body.
The APR has changed things to some extent in that coaches don’t want to risk admitting a large number of these athletes, since they risk losing scholarships if their graduation rates suffer. I think a lot of the discussion was good, but the bottom line is that if a coach really wants a “special admit” athlete to come to his/her school, it’s probably going to happen–especially at bigger schools where the coaches have a lot of influence. What do you think?
Panel 2 – ESPNification of College Sport
This panel had a catchy headline, but the discussion really centered around how college sports are being commercialized and how various players (not just ESPN) are using college sports content to generate revenue.
Amy Perko (Executive Director, Knight Commision on Intercollegiate Athletics) said the main issue relates to how various games and content are packaged and sold, and the lines between college and pro sports are becoming more and more blurred. Can universities pull back control of their content and how it is packaged from media companies?
Leonard Moore (Associate Professor of History and Assistant Vice President, Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Univ. of Texas-Austin) said this is really about how media companies are promoting and exploiting black athletes, specifically male football and basketball players. He referred to National Signing Day as “ESPN’s annual trip to the hood.”
Burke Magnus (SVP for College Sports Programming, ESPN) said the discussion should focus on the balance of what’s good for athletes and what’s good for media companies. Danny Green (valuable member, UNC TAR HEELS, NATIONAL CHAMPIONS) was present to offer his perspective on some of the issues, and Jay Bilas (basketball analyst for ESPN) had some really interesting thoughts on the tension between academics and athletics and commercialism and amateurism.
Some of the discussion centered around whether or not ESPN and other media companies are negatively impacting college sports by televising certain events at certain times. The bottom line is that a media company is never going to say no to access; it should be up to the universities and conferences to establish limits to ensure that sports aren’t over-commercialized. But it’s tough for these players to say no to the money…
Another issue that was discussed was the control that the NCAA has over players’ images, names and likenesses. The NCAA is clearly profiting off certain players and allowing others to make money off them. For example, the NCAA lets players’ numbers and likenesses be used in video games, but won’t let actual names be used, even though everyone essentially knows who these players are. Jay Bilas had the perspective that pure amateurism doesn’t exist anymore, and I tend to agree with him on this. If this is true, should certain players who generate a lot of revenue receive extra benefits, such as not having to pay for insurance against injury? In the very least, I think universities should cover the full cost of attendance, instead of just the cost of a scholarship. What do you think?
Keynote Speech – Jeremy Bloom
Jeremy is a great speaker and is very passionate about his feelings towards the NCAA. And for good reason. He was denied the final two years of his eligibility in college football because he accepted endorsements for skiing. He put forward a great argument about the lack of transparency in the NCAA how the NCAA system is broken. The NCAA makes massive amounts of money off athletes but still considers them amateurs. He stated some of his ideas for improvements and how to help fix the system. Some of these included:
- funding scholarships at the cost of attendance
- taking revenue and putting it in a medical insurance fund for players
- expanding on funds to help former student athletes go to grad school
- giving star athletes special benefits
I don’t have enough knowledge on this subject to comment thoroughly but I do think that something isn’t right when the NCAA, which wouldn’t exist without student athletes, takes a percentage of all dollars generated but doesn’t cover the full cost of attending college for athletes who get scholarships. This is in addition to some other issues which make you wonder if the NCAA really is concerned with what is best for student athletes.
Panel 3 – The College Sports Arms Race – Is There An End In Sight?
This panel focused on discussion of the so-called college sports arms race (paying coaches more, bigger budgets, building new facilities, etc), whether or not this is a problem, and how to deal with it.
Dick Baddour (AD, UNC-Chapel Hill) said that by calling this an “arms race” we assume two things that aren’t necessarily true: 1) this is a new issue and 2) it’s negative. Baddour said that 15 years ago UNC’s athletic budget was 5.4% of the total budget for the university, and today it still makes up about the same percentage.
Robert Malekoff (Professor and Coordinator of Sport Studies, Guilford College) noted that there are many similarities in the way athletic departments operate and the way universities as a whole operate. It’s wrong to look at college sports spending and this “arms race” in a vacuum.
Kelly Mehrtens (AD, UNC-Wilmington) posed an interesting question. “Is it just about athletics?” At the end of the day, it’s about trying to attract the best. From an athletics standpoint, schools do what they can to attract the best coaches and players and from an academic side, they want to attract the smartest students and faculty.
Andrew Zimbalist (Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics, Smith College) noted that revenue and expenses of both FBS football teams and overall universities have grown at roughly the same rate from 2004-2006. He noted that the salaries of coaches from the top 32 FBS football teams and top 30 basketball teams are similar to their NFL and NBA coach counterparts, even though these pro teams generate much more money than college teams. So, coaches are essentially getting paid much more than they’re really worth.
Merhtens said there’s no way to really put a ceiling on coach salaries, and most people tended to agree with that. It would take an act of congress or the NCAA asking for antitrust exemption for them to be able to regulate this.
Most panelists agreed that they don’t see this arms race stopping anytime soon, and it’s not just a D1 issue. Some universities have tried to justify increased spending by saying they operate independently and are profitable. But most panelists agreed that it’s almost impossible to figure out how many athletic departments are actually profitable (The NCAA says six are), due to differences in accounting practices.
There were some great discussions and ideas presented today at the CSRI Conference. The majority of these discussions focused on issues facing sports at the D1 level, probably because that is the level that gets the most visibility. But it’s important to remember that D2 and D3 schools exist, and they make up a large portion of college sports as well. A lot of the issues discussed don’t have as much relevance to the lower levels. That doesn’t mean they’re not important, but we should remember that you can’t over-generalize too much when throwing around issues in college sports, since some of these only affect certain schools, players and levels.