On Monday night, more than 30 million viewers will tune in as Ohio State faces off against Oregon in the 2015 college football national championship game. But amid the excitement and fanfare, an increasing number of fans and critics are raising questions about college football’s financial dynamics. In recent years, the sport has been racked with controversy: An October report demonstrated high rates of life-altering concussions among former players, many high-performing teams continued patterns of low academic standards and a history of college officials overlooking sexual assault was dragged to light. Behind it all, a handful of powerful university officials and NCAA executives stand to make millions by overlooking the systemic issues in big-time college sports.
The debate over whether some of this profit should be redistributed to the players came to the forefront in 2014, but the concept is far from new. In this clip from Bill’s 1991 program, “Sports For Sale,” former Duke basketball point guard Dick DeVenzio argues that the idea of “amateur status” robs college athletes of compensation they have rightly earned.
In the clip, DeVenzio, who has since passed away, tells a group of prospective college basketball players:
“People in big-time college sports make big money. And so there’s a lot of money going around … They’re getting a great bargain, giving you an education to fill up their gymnasium and make all the money they make. In colleges, they say, ‘Hey, you guys are amateurs.’ Well why do they say that? So that they keep all the money!”
Although the segment is 24 years old, DeVenzio’s concerns about who’s getting rich off college sports are more relevant to the public debate than ever. In a landmark ruling in April, a National Labor Relations Board official allowed Northwestern’s football team to vote on unionization. Then in August, a federal judge ruled for the first time that collegiate athletes can profit from the use of their likeness in broadcasts and video games. In recent years, a growing number of advocates have argued that college athletics are a labor injustice hiding behind a “veil of amateurism.”
And there’s more money being made by the people at the top than ever. The average NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision head coach now makes a base salary of $1.75 million — almost 75 percent higher than just seven years ago. NCAA President Mark Emmett’s base compensation was $1.7 million in 2013. And at least seven different CEOs of college football bowl games received more than $500,000 in 2012.
As we go into tonight’s football championship game, DeVenzio’s 24-year-old criticism is a reminder of just how ingrained college athletics’ money issues really are.