KU News Release

July 24, 2012
Contact: Mike Krings, KU News Service, 785-864-8860

Professor: End myth of amateurism to help restore balance in college athletics

Angela Lumpkin

More Information

LAWRENCE — If athletics are to maintain a vital, healthy role in higher education, it is time to drop the myth of college athletes as amateurs, a University of Kansas professor argues in a recently published study. That step would go a long way to helping end the athletics arm race and ensure more athletes earned degrees and received a better education, says Angela Lumpkin, professor of health, sport and exercise science.

Lumpkin authored “Athletes in Institutions Competing in the Football Bowl Subdivision: Positives, Negatives and Recommendations for Change,” published in this month’s Journal of Sport Administration and Supervision. She recommends 14 changes to college athletics that could help return athletics to their root of complementing higher education.

“This topic interests me because I’m concerned about athletics’ place in academics,” said Lumpkin, a former athlete, education administrator and former women’s basketball coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We’re very hypocritical about how we talk about amateurism in college athletics.”

Lumpkin, who teaches classes in sport finance and economics, sport management and sport ethics, is quick to point out she supports the institution of athletics in higher education, but she believes changes could be made to ensure athletes receive a better education and are not exploited. Her main recommendation is ending the myth of amateurism. Athletes often devote more than 40 hours per week to their sports, which in the case of football and men’s basketball, generate large amounts of money for the institution, but they are not allowed to be paid for their efforts and are expected to continue their studies.

“Anybody who thinks athletes aren’t getting benefits beyond what is permissible by NCAA rules isn’t paying attention,” she said.

The situation is ethically troubling, she said, because coaches and athletic administrators make exorbitant salaries while students go unpaid. She cites the example of the Olympic Games a few decades ago. There was an insistence that participants be amateurs. However, many were making money from their talents, and when the policy preventing paying them as professionals was lifted, the games did not suffer. People would still watch college sports if the players were not amateurs, she argues.

The pressure to win and bring in high-profile recruits has created an unsustainable “arms race,” in which spending on facilities and coaches salaries is continually escalating. The two most popular sports, football and men’s basketball, are the chief culprits.

“I feel these are the two that need the most change,” she said. “I would argue that we’re exploiting these young men. We’re using them and providing a free developmental system for the professional leagues.”

The lure of a potential professional career draws many athletes into college sports, even though less than 2 percent have a chance of playing professionally. Many who get drafted don’t end up making a professional roster and also leave school without a degree. Lumpkin says she would advocate for a system in all sports like that in baseball. When an athlete finishes his high school career, he needs to decide whether to pursue professional baseball or enroll in college. Once in college, the athlete is not eligible again for the draft for three years. A four-year guarantee would be even more effective in helping students earn degrees, she argues.

Lumpkin also argues that preferred admissions should end. The practice allows admission of student athletes who otherwise would not meet enrollment criteria. More exceptions are made at schools across the country as enrollment criteria are raised for other students. By doing away with the practice, fewer students would be set up to fail. Even gifted students are set up to fail by scheduling, Lumpkin said. Many sports, such as basketball, require students to travel on class days, thereby forcing students to miss numerous classes, putting them at a disadvantage to pass. If institutions were to retake control of scheduling and reduce the number of games in distant locations during the week, the number of missed classes could be reduced significantly. Taken together, these factors result in a large percentage of athletes leaving school without earning degrees.

The pursuit of revenue is at the heart of many of the problems with college athletics; however, recent NCAA reports have shown that only 22 of more than 1,000 colleges covered their athletic costs. A presidential task force on the future of NCAA Division I athletics has also stated the current model of college athletics is unsustainable. Enacting changes would not be easy, but it is possible, Lumpkin argues.

“Undoubtedly, some will claim these recommendations are infeasible. While enacting them may be challenging, each of these recommendations could be collaboratively implemented by presidents, athletic directors and faculty with the moral courage to reclaim control over intercollegiate athletics,” Lumpkin wrote.

Her recommendations are not to end college athletics or turn them into a separate professional league, but to take measures to ensure the athletes are receiving the best possible opportunity to get a college education.

“If we persist with where we are, then we need to do something to guarantee these students get a degree,” Lumpkin said. “I believe college degrees open doors.”

Lumpkin offers 14 recommendations with the input of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, the Drake Group and the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics:
• End the myth of amateurism
• Eliminate preferred or special admissions for recruited athletes
• Award four year grants-in-aid
• Get tough on coaches and athletes who break the rules
• Limit sport seasons, competitions and travel while classes are in session
• Require one-year residency for athletic eligibility
• Reorganize academic counseling and support services for athletes
• Raise academic requirements for postseason competition
• Reduce expenditures in football and men’s basketball
• Limit the salaries of head coaches in football and men’s basketball
• Limit the number of assistant coaches in football and men’s basketball
• Revise the distribution of television revenues from the men’s Division I basketball championship
• Reclaim control over the locations and times of competitions
• Make intercollegiate athletic budgets and financial reports transparent.

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