Reforming Athletics After Penn State Scandal: Opinion
Small transparent transgressions beget bigger and more opaque sins. Morally rudderless faculty shade grades, and coaches and presidents like Paterno and Spanier do even worse. Every several years, scandals like Penn State's emerge -- gambling, sex or otherwise.
Many athletes get used -- they end up with no degree or a worthless diploma from a soft program. A good deal of the money raised goes back into athletics; donors that could be approached for academic purposes are diverted to sports; and academic programs on a net basis profit little and perhaps get penalized.
While fundraising for a major academic program at the University of Maine in the 1980s, so often potential donors told me they could not give anything or much because they supported the Black Bears NCAA Division I national championship hockey program.
The Penn State affair marks an opportunity to restructure the relationship between big time athletics and universities.
Universities could disarm and take the route of the Ivy League or military service academies -- less money would be raised overall but more would be available for academic programs.
All universities are not going to disarm, and it may be the lesser evil to admit big time programs in football and few other sports are farm systems for pro leagues.
Permit 30 or so major universities to affiliate their teams with a pro franchise, but require those programs to be strictly self financing based on ticket sales and contributions from their sponsoring pro team. Pay the athletes, offer the opportunity to earn a degree over five or even six years, but don't require them to enroll if they are not capable or are simply disinclined.
Then other universities could have non-scholarship athletic programs for genuine amateurs. Those programs, in a manner similar to the Ivies and military academies, could compete at a level that compliments a decent university education.
After all, a quality education is why young people should go to college.
Peter Morici is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and widely published columnist. This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.