COMMENTARY: Spoiled Athletes, Overpaid Coaches and Truckloads of Money – What Could Go Wrong?

In the end it’s the money, not morality, that drives big time college athletics

Baylor University, a private “Christian” [Baptist] Texas college is in the midst of a scandal over allegations of sexual assault, violence, leadership failures, and cover-ups involving numerous football players, executives and staff. Were you “shocked, shocked” by these accusations like Captain Renault in Casablanca?

Baylor is a relatively recent national football power although they have been playing for more than 100 years. They were ranked 13th at the end of a 2015 season and enjoyed home games in a new $266 million stadium that seats 45,140 spectators and is expandable to 55,000 located in Waco a city of only 130,000, less than the population of Salinas, California, 95 miles south of central Dallas.

What was so important about football that would lead a school with an outstanding academic and social reputation into the morass of these all-to-common allegations? In the end it’s about the money – that’s all.

The sports business in all its forms is everywhere and amount of money involved is simply staggering.  UCLA, a public university, recently announced 15-year, $280 million deal with Under Armour, but that was chicken feed in today’s hyper-inflated sports market.  In 2015, ten NCAA football programs showed a combined profit of $1.1 billion.  The influence is not just in profit, it’s also in spending; Alabama football spent $51 million that same year and only 160 miles away Auburn football spent $40 million.  That kind of money buys you a lot of friends.

The primary assets of the sports business are the performers, the athletes, and the business is always hunting for new talent; it identifies potentially great players at an ever-earlier age so they can be ‘locked’ into a career, program or team.

College football scholarships have been offered to 14-year olds, potential professional tennis players start training at age 7 or 8 and AAU boys’ basketball has a division for those 7 and under.  Great stars such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have gone directly from High School to the professional ranks and unimaginable wealth. The NFL has rules against making that jump; football players are ineligible to enter the NFL until three years after their high school class graduates; that keeps the NFL’s free minor league, major college football, in business.

On the college level it’s the head coaches who clean up, 55 college football coaches and 25 college basketball coaches are each pulling in between $2 million and $7 million a year in salaries and bonuses plus whatever they can make on the side based on their popularity and sales potential. This is big, big business.

In most programs college coaches get paid for winning, a losing record is going to cost you your job and make it more difficult to find one of the top-paying jobs in the future.  Winning depends, mostly, on talent – and since you can’t legally pay for college talent the trick is to recruit it and keep it at the school and on the field and that means rankings and media exposure.

That same attitude has leaked down to many high school and prep school programs where the coaches’ jobs and community standing and support depend on winning and only on winning.

A head coach making $6 million a year has six million reasons to look the other way when his star or starting athletes get in hot water and the same number of reasons to instruct an assistant to have a little talk with the professor who dares to give them a failing grade.

This sports communities' attitude starts early in life, the players are often protected from the consequences of their actions whenever necessary. Too many of them care about one thing only – their sport which is the key to their lucrative future – they are not stupid or inherently criminal they have learned the way all of us learn, from experience. Their experience is that there are different rules for star players from an early age through the professional ranks and especially at the college level where the schools are always powerful, and too often closed, organizations.

In the end it’s the money that drives the system and since the “student athlete," which is an oxymoron in many cases, knows that they are the key to the cash box for everyone else, they take their payment in the antisocial behavior they learned from years of observation and personal experience. 

Had we implemented and applied different rules we would get different results over time, but don’t expect any real change as long as the university presidents work for the coaches in reality and the programs remain corrupted cash cows.

Marty Richman

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Marty (Martin G.) spent his teen years in northern New Jersey. He served more than 22 years on active military duty, mostly in Europe, and is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, Nuclear Weapons Technical Officer. Marty then worked 25 years in various engineering and management positions in the electronics and energetic materials industries supporting the communications, computer, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, from The College of Hard Knocks, among his numerous awards and accomplishments. He was a regular weekly Op/Ed columnist and feature writer for The Hollister Free Lance for seven years and a member of its editorial board for five years. Marty is a frequent commentator and contributor to BenitoLink on a wide variety of local, state, national and international subjects.   Marty was elected to represent the City of Hollister District 4 on the City Council in November, 2018. Marty and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Hollister since 1996.