College $ports: #MissionorMoney was a learning experience for me
Posted September 24, 2013
Updated September 25, 2013
Our goal in the documentary College $ports: #MissionorMoney was to show how complex college athletics can be.
It’s a near-impossible balancing act to field competitive sports teams that generate millions of dollars in an academic setting.
“Our athletic programs are basically running a sports business in an educational setting,” explained ACC commissioner John Swofford. "And those two things need to be balanced appropriately.”
We tried to get insight from all angles of the story. We talked to those with academic priority like Duke professor Orin Starn. “The reality right now is that Division I universities across the country are running this billion-dollar sports entertainment complex,” Starn said. “And I don’t think that sounds very good to put up front in your mission statement.”
We interviewed those who make a career out of college athletics including athletic directors, broadcasters and coaches. “You worship at the altar of your program,” former ECU, Boston College and NFL coach Steve Logan said. “You do what it takes to win the football game, to do the best you can to do it the right way, but don’t tell me you’ve never broken a rule. Don’t tell me that.”
Programs have cheated to win and bent the rules to keep players academically above ground. Players have accepted money and impermissible benefits but also feel they should be getting more than the value of their scholarship.
The mission statement of college athletics is incredibly murky, but fans continue to pour their hearts, souls and money into the schools they cheer for.
“As a scholar who’s worked and written about the history of sports,” Starn said, “I can say that I don’t think there’s ever been a society in human history that has been as obsessed and as crazy enthusiastic about sports as America in 2013.”
UNC system President Tom Ross agrees. “The American public is really where the control of all this is, because it is the American public that has become very devoted to college athletics.”
Charles Clotfelter is a professor of public policy, economics and law at Duke. He also wrote the book, Big Time Sports in American Universities. “The conclusion I came up with is that the trustees want to have competitive teams, period. End of story,” he said.
Working on the documentary gave me this perspective on college athletics: It’s like a Rubik’s Cube. Some see it as impossible to solve, but it’s entertainment that people keep spending money on.