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‘Television-rights fees have exploded into the billions—the NCAA currently has an $11 billion TV contract for its March Madness basketball tournament and reports have suggested the upcoming major-college football playoff could earn as much as $5 billion. Sponsorships, ticket sales and licensing deals bring more. A big-time football program can generate tens of millions per season, and though profits are hardly guaranteed—a stunning proportion of athletic departments run at a deficit—this pursuit can be used to justify a program’s excessive power on campus.’

Yes, well said, and this we all know.

The writer insists that cold hard cash, rather than any “abstraction,” accounts for college football’s disgusting culture:

Culture sounds like an abstraction, but it’s really not. Money is driving the culture.

Yet UD would argue that culture is driving the money. Indeed, when the writer tries to get at the culture, he’s vague, clearly inadequate:

College sports remain an intoxicating spectacle, rich with custom and a young, loyal, emotional audience. It sweeps us into the moment, thrills us, suspends our common sense. The forces behind college sports know we won’t turn away, even as coaches skip out on teams and superstar athletes (quite understandably) depart school early. They know we are hooked, and they can count on our cognitive dissonance.

This descriptive language fails to distinguish the sick giant (compellingly embodied by hulking affectless Sandusky) of big-time university football and basketball from amateur campus athletics – from all good sports spectacles, for that matter. The writer is also wrong about the nature of the audience. It is neither particularly young nor particularly loyal. The moneyed fans (and they’re all that count for the purposes of the money argument) are older guys – forties, fifties, sixties… T. Boone Pickens is around 500… And the reason so many big programs are in deep financial shit is because fans abandon teams in droves when they start on a losing streak. Some fans are loyal, sure. Many fans flee the stadium when the team sucks. Plus when the economy’s in the dumpster they abandon their season tickets and luxury boxes. In response, the university ups the price of everyone’s ticket (gotta pay for the 300 million stadium upgrade and the new incredibly expensive coach who will turn the team around and the incredibly expensive severance pay for the exiting coach who by the way is also talking about suing the school), making matters worse.

And why are so many universities dominated by a culture that “sweeps us into the moment, thrills us, suspends our common sense”? Do these sounds like intellectual values? I mean, thrills us, okay. The rest of it?

No, the writer needs to disentangle some of what he’s written and think about sports factories as places where people have eagerly betrayed the life of the mind.

Margaret Soltan, July 24, 2012 6:22AM
Posted in: sport

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