Monday, October 10, 2011

How Profit Is Tackling Amateurism

My first job after college was working at another college. Four weeks after I walked the stage and was handed my diploma at Xavier University, I began working in the athletic ticket office at the University of Notre Dame. While I learned fairly quickly that a career in ticketing wasn't the path for me, I look back and know that it was the best first job I could have asked for. The University of Notre Dame was where I first learned and became excited about branding.

However, working on the business side of college athletics, it's easy to forget that the most critical component to the system is that its athletes are amateurs. The reason amateur status is so important is that it's meant to ensure student-athletes participate for non-monetary benefits - or those inherently received from competition on the field. The qualities that most associated with being derived from competition are respect, teamwork, sportsmanship, preparation, camaraderie and go as far as placing a high value on exercise. Practiced on the fields of play, the goal is that these values become learned human characteristics. It's the entire justification for athletics on the campuses of higher educators. They're not supposed to be in the entertainment business.

Unfortunately, that fact is often lost on people - even those charged with doing the educating. As critical as amateurism in athletics is to higher learning from athletics, it's becoming evident that profit is just as critical to a lot of University administrators. It's so important to them that it often clouds their judgment to the point that the mission of athletics on campuses is minimized down to an afterthought. If it's at the forefront of their attention, would such a high number of University administrators consistently act in a manner that's completely contradictory to the values that amateur athletics is designed to foster.

Camaraderie and loyalty are fundamental lessons learned during team competition. Yet, the more obvious lesson that's taught by many is to value self before team. That's what Syracuse University, the University of Pittsburgh, Texas Christian University and Texas A&M are currently teaching students. They're not the only ones guilty of this; just the ones currently guilty of it. It's also the same lesson that a college coach passes on when they break their spineless commitments to their teams in order to switch to a more personally profitable allegiance. Less obvious are lessons in solving problems versus solving symptoms of problems.

The current system is broken. I believe the first step toward fixing it is a decision on the purpose of college football. It must decide in what realm should it exist - a pure profit enterprise designed to generate cash for the University or an amateur competition designed to supplement higher educations. But I think it's clear that they don't coexist very well and should be changed, regardless of how dependent the current system is on an "amateur" labor force.

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