Unwinding Madness In College Sports? A New Book Shows How! – Forbes

Unwinding Madness: What Went Wrong with College Sports and How to Fix It by Dr. Gerald Gurney, Donna Lopiano  and Dr. Andy Zimbalist is a new book I highly recommend for anyone interested in the business of intercollegiate athletics and college sports governance. Endorsed by Bob Costas, Frank Deford and former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, it is one of the better books I have read on how to repair the rapidly deteriorating business of college sports. I also recommend it to anyone looking for ways to fix a system that is too maddeningly stubborn to fix itself and seems to claim that the genie is out of the bottle. The business of college sports is no doubt complicated and while there are complexities in reforming a system that desperately needs it, at the end of the day it is not as hard as it is often made out to be. One of the biggest problems is people within higher education and intercollegiate athletics cannot even agree if it is actually a business or not! If that is part of the argument then maybe there is no hope. Considering billions are generated off the backs of young men and women for hundreds of colleges and universities and millions of fans worldwide, it is a business at least in some form.

Is College Sports a Business?

College sports is a business!

College sports is not a business!!!

These statements above are continuous as theoretically smart people argue back and forth about the status of college sports as a business, a non-profit educational entity or even something that has a little of both. The truth is simple. It is a business, albeit a poorly run allegedly educational “non-profit” business model rife with abuses of power and greed that often has little to do with educational and life development-which the industry often purports to be doing. At the very least the enterprise is getting further and further away from those mostly unrealized ideals. To most anyone that might sound sacrilegious because we want to believe that college sports in America are pure and about education first. If you believe that, then I have the proverbial swampland to sell you. It is about winning and revenue generation first and foremost. Education is a mere afterthought and the system needs to change.

We also want to believe that big time college sports and success in them means a huge positive boon for the university and the “business” is doing just fine. In other words, if it ain’t broke-don’t fix it. For the small percentage of people that control college sports and have the massive salaries and golden parachutes-why would they want it to change? I mean after all doesn’t college sports bring in countless millions of dollars, provide a real college education to thousands of athletes, help the university with marketing, fund raising and enrollment? That is what “everyone” is saying after all. I hear it everyday. By everyone I mean college presidents, athletic directors, trustees, alumni, fans, the television networks etc. It is almost overwhelmingly a rout when misinformed public opinion is weighed against researchers and scholars that are telling the truth and exposing a business educational model that currently is irretrievably broken. We simply do not want to believe or accept our college sports are actually corrupt! Why spoil all of the fun I guess.

The System Can Be Fixed

We could fix this system believe it or not. It is not intended to be an easy fix or fixes, but nothing worth changing is easy. We must first accept that the current model does not, and frankly has not, ever worked in the way it was intended. Getting to that point is critical to actually begin to deconstruct the system as is and rebuild it as a true extra curricular, non-profit sports system within higher education, albeit if that is what we truly want- something I am not entirely convinced of. I often ask myself and say publicly, “What will cause me and others to NOT watch college sports”? The answer is very little, if anything. We will continue to watch the games regardless in my view. I truly believe that we do not care whether the college athlete is a full time student, being paid a salary, appearing on commercials or candidly whether they are enrolled students at all for that matter. If these things really mattered we would be outraged and not watch now because the system is not operating as advertised. However if we are truly outraged by these things, and believe me these things will happen (and in some ways continue to happen) if the college sports business enterprise does not fix itself. If we really cared, we would be livid at how college sports is governed today because it is not about playing for old State U., getting a letter sweater and a great education.

Yet it can actually be about education first, be fiscally responsible, and be governed in a way that enables an athlete to actually be a student if we simply want it to be that way. Unwinding Madness gives us a clear road map on how to fix college sports before it fixed for us and maybe fixed in ways we don’t want it to be! The book is written by three of the top thinkers, researchers and reformers in college sports today. Dr. Gerald Gurney of the University of Oklahoma, Donna Lopiano, the former Women’s athletic director at the University of Texas and noted Title IX advocate and Dr. Andy Zimbalist of Smith College one of the top sports economists in the world.¬†These accomplished scholars are ones that need little if any introduction. All three are members of the reform minded Drake Group and although The Drake Group has been often misunderstood as a overly critical college athletic reform group that just throws bombs and not solutions, nothing could be further from the truth. The Drake Group has presented plan after plan that are achievable and scaled-ready templates that can be used to enforce academic integrity, athlete safety and enforcement and infractions reform just to name a few subjects. Yet the powers that be in college athletics and university presidents do not want to change what is working for them and they continue to shun real reform efforts that can work.


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