The Marxists Running College Athletics

Jonathan Weiler had a great post at theESPNwatch that included the words “Marxists” and “NCAA”.  Who can’t love that?

I will get back onto something other than the NCAA, I promise. But since college athletics bigwigs keep saying ridiculous things, I feel compelled to document them. As I noted the other day, Texas AD Steve Patterson said last week that there was no need to embrace “total socialism.” The context for that remark was worry that the assertion of greater autonomy by the Power Five Conferences would result in ever greater disparities between the haves and have-nots in college sports. Patterson, who heads just about the most have-y university there is, naturally is unconcerned about such a gulf. After all, if your product thrives in the marketplace, why should you have to prop up companies whose products don’t?

Of course, none of the muckety-mucks who run big time varsity sports in America seems to think that logic extends to the players themselves. Those who play in sports that thrive in the marketplace should be no better remunerated than those who don’t. Bob Bowlsby, the Big-12 Commissioner, was explicit about this point when speaking on Mike and Mike yesterday said, and I quote: “We can’t have an open marketplace.”

Lest you think that was just one errant statement, and not evidence that Bowlsby is a crazy commie socialist, Bowlsby recently, and astonishingly, took a page right out of the Marxian play book. Here’s what he had to say about why college basketball and football playersshould not be remunerated any more than other athletes:

“If you apply any form of the labor theory of value, that is to say the work that goes into something is determinant of the cost, football and basketball players don’t work any harder than any other athletes.”

To the delight of many, ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi passed along a question that Jay Bilas wanted to pose (see the above link): does Bowlsby think he works harder than his secretary since, by his own labor theory standard, he probably shouldn’t be making around 60 times what his secretary does? (Bowlsby makes around $1.8 million a year). Bowlsby chuckled and then continued on the circular reasoning merry go-round that since the players aren’t employees he does, indeed, deserve more than his secretary (or something like that. His answer was mainly a non-sequitur).

In the same interview on Mike and Mike yesterday in which he warned against an “open marketplace,” Bowlsby was happy to run with Golic’s concern that paying profit sport players will result in the elimination of non-profit sports. Earlier yesterday, Bilas had explained to Golic quite clearly why that worry was a canard. If institutions want to eliminate those sports they will. But they don’t have to. As Bilas noted, Division II and III manage a full compliment of sports with a fraction of the resources of big-time sports universities. And they could make decisions about spending less on their coaches and facilities. But Golic regards that as an impossibility – that’s toothpaste that won’t go back in the tube, he repeated. So, naturally, if the people who are already getting rich off college sports are to be left alone, what choice does one have but to blame athletes pulling down $5,000 stipends for the denial of opportunity of other athletes?

Bowlsby, of course, felt that it was perfectly reasonable to pin the potential elimination of college sports like wrestling and gymnastics on players who receive some compensation for playing football and basketball. After all, his own $1.8 million salary is a birthright. And those gold-plated facilities? How are programs to compete with one another in a marketplace without them? A martketplace which, to reiterate, should exist for everyone who is already making a killing but not for the (primarily) less well-off athletes who power the industry.

Of course, Bowlsby, SEC Commish Mike Slive, Big Ten head Jim Delaney, Steve Patterson and their ilk aren’t really Marxists. They’re just self-serving. But they do fit in a long and venerable tradition in the United States – as tribunes of socialism for the rich, and free markets for the poor.

 - Jonathan Weiler

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