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Labor Day Thoughts

Today is Labor Day and I am clearly working (but only a little bit). Malcolm Gladwell posted a comment on his blog entitled “Abolish the NCAA” and I encourage everyone to go read what Gladwell has to say.

Let me add just a few additional comments to Gladwell's post. Gladwell notes a paper written by Jim Peach, an economist at New Mexico State University and out-going president of the Western Social Science Association. Peach’s paper, which I plan on commenting on in more detail in the future, examines the level of competition in the NCAA.

Peach basically finds that for 50 years the NCAA has been expanding its rule book. Peach also finds that despite more and more rules, competitive balance does not seem to exist in sports like football, basketball (for men and women), volleyball (again for men and women), and baseball. Looking at these findings one wonders: If the NCAA’s rules do not promote competitive balance, what is the purpose of this institution?

As you watch tonight’s game between Miami and Florida State, think about who is profiting from the spectacle that is big-time college athletics. Given ESPN’s promotion efforts, clearly it finds broadcasting the game to be profitable. The schools and coaches also benefit from these games. The players, though, see very little of the revenue these games generate. And remember, the vast majority of NCAA athletes – as the commercials say – will turn pro in something other than athletics. In other words, the athletes – who we all enjoy watching – generate much money for other people, but very little for themselves.

Perhaps this is a situation more people should ponder on Labor Day.

Update: Jim Peach tells me his paper -- entitled "College Athletics, Universities, and the NCAA" -- will appear in the January issue of the Social Science Journal. This paper was his presidential address to the Western Social Science Association.