The Risks of the NCAA Supreme Court Decision


The Supreme Court forever changed college admissions. Judges’ decision late last month to allow the NCAA’s Division I men’s football and basketball programs to provide new educational incentives for student-athletes has created a backward avenue to compensate student-athletes. in commercially lucrative sports, many of which come from low-income backgrounds. And new rules the NCAA was launched last week in response to a series of state laws allow student-athletes to enjoy their name, image and likeness without breaking the amateur rules of college sports. So far, the changes have been celebrated as a step towards greater fairness. They may well have this effect in some schools and for some students.

But the High Court’s ruling is also likely to produce a set of perverse consequences, sparking a race among universities to cover wealthy and privileged students with a range of new benefits, and widening the chasm of inequality.

Although the decision itself is relatively narrow, The approval of Judge Brett Kavanaugh practically invited further legal challenges to the NCAA’s amateur policies. Many other programs will likely seek the right to offer new financial incentives to recruit and retain student-athletes. This is probably what awaits: a world in which colleges compete to offer ever more incentives, even to the richest student-athletes, which are essential to their enrollment goals, their competitiveness, their alumni pride. students and their fundraising.

If colleges are now tempted to add new incentives to attract student-athletes, what trade-offs will they have to make and where will these resources come from?

The resources of most colleges and universities are stretched. The pandemic has lowered registrations, tuition reduction is at an all time high, and steepening decrease in the number of high school graduates in America, it is difficult for colleges to meet their income targets. Some people assume that colleges and universities will cut sports like lacrosse and squash, which are clearly less lucrative than basketball and football, rather than subsidizing the athletes who play them. But this hypothesis ignores the key role that these “no income” sports play in college finances. Schools from Division I to Division III face pressures to spend ever more on training and competition facilities, coaches and assistant coaches, travel budgets and equipment. Part of the reason is that colleges and universities use athletic programs to recruit and retain students. For example, NCAA division schools continue to add programs such as lacrosse and squash, even as many institutional budgets are cut. From 2003 to 2018, the number of female college and university lacrosse teams almost doubled, and the number of men’s programs increased by 61%. During this time since 2007, the number of club and varsity squash teams in the United States has increased by more than 25 percent-and most of the top ranked colleges in america now have squash courts. One of the reasons schools add these sports is that they tend to attract students from wealthier families, families more likely to be able to afford the full tuition fee. The median annual income of squash players and fans is over $ 300,000, according to a report from 2014 on our side To crush.

Schools are also well aware that many alumni take great pride in their alma mater’s athletic program and that participating in sports strengthens many students’ allegiance to their school and ultimately their likelihood of being. a donor. It’s no surprise then that elite DIII athletic conferences, such as the New England Small College Athletic Conference, whose members include Amherst, Bowdoin, and Williams, offer so many athletic programs that typically over 30 percent of the total number of students in each school is part of the university teams.

For members of major athletics conferences, such as the SEC and ACC, whose men’s football and basketball programs were primarily the subject of the court ruling, the costs of the new incentives for students -athletes will likely be passed on to the private sector through television and other sponsorship deals. The five biggest football conferences (known as the Power 5) collectively generate over $ 4 billion in annual football revenue. Likewise, schools with large endowments or lucrative fundraising operations appear to have reliable means to cover additional costs. But these schools represent a single-digit percentage of the more than 1,100 NCAA member institutions and educate a relatively small percentage of the poorest students. The risk is that institutions with small endowments and money-losing sports programs may divert resources away from financial aid and student services, especially because sports programs have become so intrinsic to admissions and registration. Fund raising.

The resources of most schools are not only limited, but also precariously balanced between basic costs such as academic investments, financial aid, staff, facilities and sports. An arms race in athletics would likely jeopardize the resources currently allocated to other student supports. Millions of students outside income-generating sports programs, including first-generation low-income students, could end up with a declining share of already insufficient financial aid.

This seismic shift in varsity athletics is taking place at a time when it is more difficult than ever for poor students to afford university. The costs associated with recruiting future student-athletes could undermine efforts to recruit and retain low-income students. As it is, almost three out of four students in the United States have less money that they need pay for college. Institutions at all levels must now face the need to establish strong and clear political and financial safeguards around their educational mission, i.e. around the learning that takes place between teachers. and students, and around financial aid investments that open college doors to all qualified students.

Student-athletes invest extraordinary time and effort in training and competition, and learn the value of teamwork, persistence, strategy and leadership. Yet this part of university life comes at a high cost to academic institutions, and only a few benefit from it. It was high time for the legal victory for the student-athletes. It is also high time for schools to commit to investing the same energy in developing, supporting and celebrating the continuing education of students as they do in celebrating those who compete in sports. Importantly, as the world of college athletics funding evolves, institutions should reaffirm the centrality of their academic mission and make the necessary investments to ensure that a college education is possible for all who seek one.

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