By Josh Kornfield
Case One: Bowled Over
College bowl games are an opportunity for football teams to collect revenue, recruit players and win prestigious trophies. Access to these benefits is limited, however: Many football fans have come to disdain the college bowl system because it unfairly excludes schools from the Non-Automatically Qualifying (non-AQ) Conferences.
In addition to benefiting from sizeable revenues and valuable recruiting opportunities, teams able to compete in bowl games also can schedule more practices than non-competing teams. Some argue that the system generally favors an exclusive association of schools that deliberately constructs guidelines that limit other schools’ opportunities to participate.
It has been suggested that college teams should participate in a playoff system rather than a bowl system, but some experts believe a playoff system would not work. The bowl system limits the number of games by only allowing teams with six wins against Division 1A schools to advance to a bowl. Last year, sixty-four teams were able to compete. A playoff system would undoubtedly last far longer. University presidents are reluctant to abandon academic goals for athletes by allowing a longer football season.
The Texas Christian University Horned Frogs had a perfect 13-0 season last year. The team is finally moving to the Big East conference after many years in the “mid-majors.” Many attribute the Big East’s decision to welcome TCU to the fact that TCU is in a major media market (Dallas-Fort Worth). While college football is a commercial enterprise, many expect the system to fairly reward the most capable teams.
Case Two: Footing the Bill for Football
Nick Saban, the head coach at the University of Alabama, was paid more than $6 million last year. The average salary of NCAA college basketball coaches whose teams reached the 2009 NCAA tournament was $1.3 million. College athletic coaches are earning very high salaries even as colleges are struggling to pay the bills. Public and private universities across the country are raising tuition rates and reducing scholarship awards. Some universities are freezing faculty salaries in an effort to weather the recession.
Salary decisions often are made by a very small group of administrators at universities. Perhaps if the faculty and the student body were to decide coaches’ salaries democratically, the coaches would be paid less than they are today. Conversely, having a successful athletic program is of the utmost importance to many faculty, students, and alumni.
Further, many consider college athletic programs to be a profitable business for universities. Yet only 6 of 346 Division I programs consistently earned profits the past five years.
College athletic coaches draw high salaries because athletic programs want to sign those who can deliver a winning season and thereby please alumni and donors. One could argue that the market determines what salaries coaches deserve. Coaching a team to a championship takes tremendous expertise and effort.
On the other hand, perhaps this market is artificial. Salaries appear to many observers to be unreasonable. Universities condemn themselves to scraping together enough funds to support money-losing athletic programs.
Although Title IX is often cited to explain why college athletic programs are not profitable, exhorbitantexorbitant coaching salaries certainly affect the bottom line. There is a growing consensus among officials at the NCAA that the current system of wooing coaches is unsustainable.
The University of Miami recently dismissed Hurricanes Head Coach Randy Shannon. Although many observers supported the decision to fire Shannon, others wondered whether it was worth the cost of buying out his contract: $1.5 million. Many players on the team opined that Shannon was not responsible for their lackluster performance. Nevertheless, the University opted to hire Al Golden, the championship coach from Temple University for an annual salary of roughly $2 million.
Case Three: An (Enhanced) League of Their Own
An entrepreneur had a grand slam idea. While trying to formulate an exciting new format for professional wrestling, it occurred to him to sell tickets to battles between superhuman giants – i.e., steroid users. Then it dawned on him that there was no reason to constrain his idea to professional wrestling. He could create a new league exclusively for steroid users.
Athletic associations impose strict bans on steroid use. Steroids endanger health and result in unfair competition. On the other hand, if there were sports leagues that permitted all athletes to have equal access to steroids, perhaps this would “level the playing field.” At the very least, all steroid use would be out in the open, rather than clandestine as it is now.
Confronting his skeptics, the entrepreneur argued: “A team sport is just another form of entertainment. Models and actors take a whole array of substances to impress audiences. Why prevent athletes from taking anabolic steroids?” He established a number of guidelines to address obvious objections. The athletes must freely consent to taking steroids. Doctors would regularly inspect the athletes to ensure that the prolonged steroid abuse did not result in serious health complications. It is uncontroversial that minor health problems are often a “cost of doing business” when playing a sport. All athletes expose themselves to a certain amount of danger.
Nevertheless, critics continued to lambast the entrepreneur’s idea. They argued that the potential health complications would be unacceptable. They also asserted that such a league would set a bad example for young, impressionable fans. Finally, they noted that the possibility of unfair competition would still exist as long as any athlete might be able to obtain better steroids than his or her competitors. The entrepreneur countered that all of those problems already exist in the status quo. The new steroid leagues would only lead to increased openness and to a more entertaining game. The entrepreneur argued, “Professional athletic leagues are commercial enterprises. Isn’t the point of businesses to give the customers what they want? Let the free market decide whether it accepts the idea of a steroid league!”
Case Four: Hailing Mary to the Extreme
Quarterback Brett Farve, a 20 year veteran of the NFL, had one of the longest quarterback careers in the league. He holds many records including winning the AP’s Most Valuable Player Award three consecutive times. He officially retired just a few weeks ago.
Farve’s legacy is in jeopardy due to allegations of sexual harassment. He allegedly sent pictures of himself nude below the waist via cell phone to Jen Sterger, a sports reporter. Other women have also alleged that Farve sent them inappropriate sexts. The NFL fined Farve $50,000 for not cooperating with their investigation into the matter.
The NFL found that Farve did not violate its personal conduct policy. Nevertheless, as the investigations were not open to the public, no one is certain of the truth or falsity of the allegations. The NFL defines the professional responsibilities of its members. Players who cannot conduct themselves in a manner befitting the NFL are to be suspended or fired.
Many argue that celebrities have responsibilities that surpass professional rules and regulations. Misconduct, such as sexual harassment, might lead impressionable young fans to mimic their adult role models. Others counter that athletes do not surrender any rights when they enter the public spotlight.
The widespread publicity of certain behaviors might desensitize fans to their sinister or at least vulgar nature. Conversely, publicizing the consequences that befall those who do not comport themselves in a proper manner might discourage fans from following in their footsteps.
One could argue that as a celebrity’s prominence grows, he or she ought to be held to a higher standard. Does one have to sacrifice freedom in exchange for popularity?
Case Five: BASE-ically, Suicidal
BASE jumping is an activity that involves leaping off high structures with only a parachute on the jumper’s back. BASE stands for buildings, antennas, spans (bridges), and earth (cliffs). BASE jumping is one of the most dangerous of all sports, even more so than skydiving. While James Bond always seems to survive the jump in the movies, many BASE jumpers are not as lucky. One 2002 study found that one in sixty BASE jJumpers fell to their deaths.
Skydivers often fall at much higher speeds than BASE jJumpers. This allows them greater control over their aerodynamics. BASE jJumpers tend to tumble as they fall, making it more difficult to control their descent. During this relatively short tumbling phase, the chances of a parachute malfunction are significantly higher than the extended period of initial descent in skydiving. Skydivers have a certain period of time to level themselves before deploying their parachutes, whereas jumping from lower altitudes affords BASE jumpers less time to do so. BASE jumpers also fall perilously close to the platforms from which they leap.
The BASE jumping website suggests to jumpers that they are the ones who are ultimately responsible for their survival. Contrarily, it could be argued, some activities are simply too dangerous, and civil society should actively discourage or even prohibit individuals from taking these risks. The BASE jumping community does not share this aversion to risk. At an event at which a veteran jumper died, others continued to leap off West Virginia’s New River Gorge Bridge.
Society has banned speeding and drinking while driving and mandated the use of seatbelts and bicycle helmets. Jumping off high structures is legal and unregulated in many places.
Case Six: Betting on Sports
Gambling is often considered just another form of entertainment and many Americans illegally bet on sports. While gambling is legal at certain institutions, betting on sports is prohibited at many legal casinos. And Americans sometimes turn to gambling websites that are based outside of the United States.
Many states have outlawed sports betting, but have official state lotteries. Some argue that gambling is gambling, and that the position of the federal and many state governments is hypocritical. Others counter that the stakes in these types of bets are much higher. Illegal sports betting often takes place outside of brick and mortar establishments where it could otherwise be monitored. Officials are also concerned that high-stakes betting might affect the outcome of games. Accusations about athletes deliberately throwing or otherwise manipulating games were made when betting on sports was legal.
Gambling addiction hotlines are expecting a high volume of callers before the Super Bowl. Gamblers have the potential to lose their life savings on a single bet. The poor may be especially vulnerable to the false promise of victory. Gambling losses might threaten the stability of families, as betting decisions are usually made unilaterally and not as a family. That said, in a free market society some people expect to do what theywe want with their money. Regulations of market practices are often considered an unacceptable restriction of individual or personal autonomy. Proponents of sports betting contend that it can be regulated and taxed. Opponents argue that no amount of regulation can effectively protect desperate gamblers, or their families.