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Privatize College Football?

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09/15/2010

Several years ago during an appearance on a sports-talk radio show, I suggested that major college football programs “secede” from the NCAA and divest their operations to private, for-profit subsidiaries that could continue to produce and promote games without the socialist chains of “amateurism.” My thought was that schools could license their names and logos to subsidiaries that would actually operate the football programs. This would not only get rid of the NCAA, it would eliminate other federal restrictions like Title IX. It would also force the unprofitable college programs to stop leeching off the more successful schools.

Well, perhaps my idea is gaining steam. Donald H. Yee, a lawyer and sports agent, offered a comprehensive, ten-point plan in the Washington Post last month for “privatizing” college football along the same lines as I suggested. Yee proposes that schools contract their football programs out through open bidding, essentially removing operations from the university structure entirely:

The chief executive of, say, USC Football Inc. would make decisions, and her mandate would be to ensure that the operation was self-sufficient — no student fees (or taxpayer dollars, in the case of a public university) would be used to subsidize the football program or facilities. Any profits flowing back to the university could go directly to support the general student body and faculty. As it stands now, large public universities across the country employ sizable staffs in their athletic departments; these public employees (including the coaches) are entitled to public benefits and pensions, which are a drain on public resources.

This highlights an important point that’s rarely discussed in all the media hand-wringing over college athletics: The NCAA and its “amateurism” rules only exist to justify the massive bureaucratic infrastructure that support their enforcement. They do nothing for the producers or customers of college football.

Skip Oliva is a writer and paralegal in Virginia (skip@skipoliva.com).

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