Schooled: The Price of College Sports

“The NCAA is making money off the backs of students who are being told in a contract that they are going to play their sport and get an education. But the contract is false. They may have a degree when they leave school, but they are not getting an education”.

As the NCAA Basketball Tournament kicks off and “March Madness” sweeps the nation (while some of us eagerly await Opening Day), an antitrust, class-action lawsuit against the NCAA continues its progression through the court system, with recent news that several current athletes have added their names to the lawsuit as well.

Schooled: The Price of College Sports is a new documentary based on an e-book entitled “The Cartel” by Pulitzer Prize winning historian Taylor Branch (who also wrote an article for The Atlantic entitled “The Shame of College Sports”) and narrated by Sam Rockwell. The film examines the current economic environment of major college athletics, including the powerful role played by the NCAA and how that has impacted the rights of “student-athletes”.  In short, it is an intimate look into the inner workings of what is now a $12,000,000,000 (yes, that’s billion) dollar-a-year industry.

The film does an excellent job of outlining the history and development of the NCAA, which, as a result of a match-fixing scandal involving the Univ. of Kentucky's Men’s Basketball Team in 1951, was able to grow from a somewhat inconsequential role into the judge, jury and executioner for all matters involving collegiate athletics in America. Schooled also examines the coining of the term “student-athletes” by Walter Byers, the NCAA’s first Exec. Director, as a method of avoiding liability for either workman’s compensation or litigation brought on by the families and dependents of players.

Schooled also provides a revealing analysis of the concept of “amateurism”. Specifically how it developed in 19th Century England, where it was used to prevent the lower classes from participating in organized games and athletics; how the word itself has been expunged from the Olympic Charter by the IOC since 1986, and how this “myth of amateurism” has been so well-crafted and ingrained into the minds of the American public that many see it as a symbol of “purity” lacking in the professional sports world, while millions watch and millions are made in the process.  Several economists featured in the film note that the NCAA operates as a cartel (making an interesting comparison with OPEC's role in the steady rise of oil prices) and actively engages in what is essentially price-fixing (which violates both antitrust legislation as well as criminal law), in that universities and the NCAA work together to ensure no “student-athletes” are paid, thereby keeping their labor cost at $0.

The opportunity to attend university and receive a college education is, for many, reason enough to justify the existing practices of the NCAA.  However, this is an overly simplistic analysis of the situation. As demonstrated by the numerous revelations of academic fraud at major universities over the years, including the 2012 scandal at the University of North Carolina (which is featured in the film), the main goal of coaching staffs and athletic departments across the country is to ensure player eligibility; not the attainment of knowledge. Notable high school athletes who are clearly not ready for college-level coursework are often admitted via special exemption, without serious regard for their long-term academic development.  In addition, the “student-athlete” has no security in their education due to the fact that scholarships are renewed on a yearly basis at the discretion of the coaching staff.

Whether you follow college sports, economics or American business and labor laws, you will find Schooled: The Price of College Sports both informative and entertaining.