What's Wrong With College Sports? Here's What You Said

January 08, 2012

What would you change about college sports, if you could? The Chronicle recently asked eight innovative thinkers that question and then asked readers to share their thoughts online. We received more than 175 comments and 5,500 answers to an online poll. (You can see complete poll results and add your own two cents by going to

On the main subject, there doesn't seem to be much debate: Ninety-seven percent of respondents in the online poll say college sports is in need of reform. Similarly, a large share of readers—75 percent—feel that the NCAA does not do right by major-conference football and basketball players, and 61 percent think the organization is not adequately serving athletes in sports like water polo and field hockey.

So if the system is broken now, how to fix it? That's where things get a bit trickier. Just 30 percent of respondents support paying college football and basketball players, while 40 percent think athletes should be allowed to "major" in their sports instead of choosing a more traditional area of study. And a mere 23 percent of poll takers agree with a suggestion made by two members of our print panel: that the NCAA should be exempt from antitrust laws so it can control program expenses and television revenues.

That said, a couple of ideas did attract broad support. Most respondents—91 percent of them, in fact—think the NCAA should penalize teams for poor graduation rates. And 89 percent believe that sanctions levied against a particular team should follow that team's coach, should he or she move to a different institution.

Despite their concerns, most poll takers don't want to see collegiate athletics disappear completely. Seventy-five percent say they are fans of college sports, and a slight majority disagree with the idea that most universities would be better off without athletics departments. Forty-four percent of respondents think the NCAA should be abolished, and 57 percent believe that college sports programs provide a benefit to general education.

Several readers weighed in on what they would do to fix the current system. Here are some of their comments and suggestions:

  • "University presidents and boards should charge Division I programs fair-market rent for space and land usage of practice fields, stadia, field houses, et al. This would be a fair charge that would allow allegedly lucrative yet quasi-autonomous athletics programs to be contributing, responsible members of the campus. It would give a president and provost a transfer of funds from athletics into the general fund—which could be used for educational programs."
  • "Colleges should sell their names to the highest bidders, then get out of the sports-as-entertainment business completely. Let private enterprise run the entertainment sports, e.g. football, basketball, and send a name-rental fee to the universities. True sports, like soccer, volleyball, softball, and tennis have a definite place on campus. Entertainment sports do not."
  • "Institute salary caps for coaches, athletic directors, etc. Perhaps set the cap for coaches at the highest professor's salary (but not a medical-school professor) and for AD's at one dollar less than the university president's salary."
  • "Make all Division I programs fully financially self-sufficient and sustainable. Athletics departments must be forced to fully cover all costs of operations, including financial aid, salaries, benefits, capital operations, capital projects, operating expenses, etc. without any subsidy from public dollars or student tuition or fees."
  • "Do not allow college games to be broadcast on television. It's the money from television that is corrupting the system and causing the runaway competition for players and coaches."
  • "The sham of 'student-athlete' should be abolished. I am in favor of a system whereby athletes receive a voucher redeemable for later education when they decide they want it. Schools would create a consortium so that a person could redeem it in any region of the country."
  • "Why are we subsidizing this corruption? Attack the problem at its source: Contributions to athletics programs should no longer be tax deductible, and the athletics programs should be excluded from the nonprofit shelter of the university. No tax deductions for donors, and contributions received by athletics programs should be treated as taxable revenue."
  • "It is sad and endlessly frustrating that 'college sports' gets a bad name when the majority of college athletics programs in this country have little, if anything, in common with athletics programs at BCS-level Division I schools. College sports can and do exist as a functioning part within (not adjacent to) a higher-education institution in this country. While Division III and Division I schools are both part of the NCAA, they have very different athletics programs and, by and large, very different missions when it comes to athletics."