The Connecticut Post
In a move that summed up a lot that’s off-kilter about college sports, the University of Connecticut reached an agreement last week on an exit fee from its current home, the American Athletic Conference. In exchange for $17 million, UConn will move nearly all its sports teams to the Big East next summer, rather than wait more than two years as its agreement had stipulated.
It’s likely a sensible move. UConn wanted out, and it’s worth paying a little extra to get out sooner. Along with the change in conference will be a savings of some $2 million a year in travel, which is one of many benefits of regularly playing against teams in Rhode Island and New York rather than Texas and Oklahoma.
More than that, though, it’s yet another reminder of the staggering sums that regularly change hands in the big business of college athletics. UConn, after all, is walking away from its part of a 12-year, $1 billion TV contract between ESPN and the AAC in part on the theory that there’s more money to be made somewhere else. NCAA basketball, where UConn has known a bit of success, is a multibillion-dollar industry, but it pales next to the behemoth that is NCAA football (where UConn has not been so successful).
The severing of conference ties at Connecticut’s flagship university coincided with the release of a report by its junior U.S. senator, Democrat Chris Murphy. “Madness, Inc.: How Colleges Keep Athletes in the Field and Out of the Classroom,” details what Murphy considers some of the abuses committed by the NCAA against the people it loves to refer to as student athletes but could in other contexts be considered exploited workers.
More than anything, Murphy says college sports have taken away too much focus from what is supposed to be the purpose of the institutions in question. “I love college sports,” Murphy told the CT Mirror, “but I hate the way it dominates policy at the University of Connecticut.”
His report demonstrates the myriad ways many colleges place so much emphasis on athletics that the players are denied the opportunity to get an education, which is supposed to be the whole purpose. If an education is considered compensation, and that education is not being delivered, how can that system be sustainable, he asks?
It can’t. The NCAA is far too powerful, and its member institutions need to regain some control for the benefit of students. From some perspectives, simply paying the players makes the most sense, but even short of that there is much that could be done to improve their situations.
To start, schools must ensure that education takes top priority. Any attempt to deny proper time for studying or to shunt players into no-show classes must be punished.
The system will not change easily, but it is not too late to start fresh. Million-dollar payouts mean universities have lost their focus, and they need to ensure steps are taken to put the interests of the most important people first.