College Sports: Just a Game or an Actual Monopoly?

Major college athletics programs are often criticized for acting as though they're above the law. This ranges from student athletes for whom the term 'student' draws snickers to professional scouts illegally courting college players. Recently, several members of Congress have discussed much more sweeping antitrust concerns, allegations that suggest far-reaching and collaborative law-breaking among major universities.

By Jeff Calareso

football

A Plague of Scandals

In November, a panel featuring Illinois Representative Bobby L. Rush and Michigan Representative John Conyers Jr. was convened on Capitol Hill. The event called upon professional athletes, journalists, researchers, economists and even the mothers of two college athletes who lost their scholarships due to injury. It focused on not just one issue but on the plague of scandals rippling throughout the world of college athletics, with its primary goal being to inspire reform.

The list of concerns regarding college athletics is long. There are allegations of professional agents illegally providing money and gifts to students. There's the debate over whether the athletes, whose presence at a school can generate millions of dollars, deserve to be compensated. Then there's the broader issue of how the NCAA conducts its business. Representative Rush didn't mince his words, labeling the NCAA 'reprehensible,' 'un-American' and worse than the Mafia.

Is the NCAA a Monopoly?

In addition to appearing on the November panel, Representative Conyers recently sent a letter to Representative Lamar S. Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. In the letter, he requested hearings on antitrust and due process issues in college athletics. His letter was sparked by the realignments many athletic conferences have recently undergone and continue to pursue. Conyers has argued that large universities conspire in a way that unfairly harms small conferences and more modest sports teams, especially those at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

There are billions of dollars involved in college athletics. As Conyers noted in his letter, the NCAA alone operates with an $800 million budget. In his view, the major conferences act as a monopoly in order to make more money from broadcasting and other sources. If left unchecked, they could further deepen the divide between rich schools and poor schools. Furthermore, Conyers argued that the potential monopoly acts without regard to the interests of athletes who play the games.

The Impact on Higher Education

An unfortunate side effect of the massive role athletics play at colleges and universities is how they can overshadow academics. This is worsened when scandals erupt. As the Congressmen looking to shine a light on this situation have noted, the integrity of college athletics is in question. When an institution is defined by its athletics department, these issues can call into question the integrity of that institution as a whole.

Student athletes at Stanford University recently came under scrutiny for receiving special treatment in choosing easy classes.

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