College athletics: between slavery and capitalism

Posted: 27 January 2012 in Uncategorized
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The proliferating scandals and enormous sums of money involved in intercollegiate athletics prompt the question: is it slavery or capitalism?

We should remember that, for a long time, professional baseball was organized as slavery—until the advent of free agency and the rise of capitalist baseball. And, according to Taylor Branch, intercollegiate athletics right now have the “unmistakable whiff of the plantation.”

So, which is it—capitalism or slavery?

The slavery analogy is reinforced by Joe Nocera’s recent series of columns (e.g., here, here, and here) on the arbitrary and capricious use of power by the N.C.A.A. over student-athletes.

But then there is the business of big-time sports, as explained by Judith Scott-Clayton.

While there can be quite a bit of arbitrariness in the accounting underlying these reports, it seems clear that at least some institutions are making money: among the 120 colleges in the Football Bowl Subdivision (F.B.S., formerly called Division I-A), about 25 percent generated $14.4 million or more in net revenues annually from their men’s athletic programs.

And then there’s the political support, leverage with other powerful people, and free advertising to students and parents that big-time sports universities obtain through television exposure and the use of luxury boxes.

Clearly, at least some (but certainly not all) colleges and universities make big-time money through intercollegiate athletics while treating the athletes themselves as plantation workers, with few rights or forms of redress.

Capitalist business practices and slave labor. Perhaps that combination is the closest we’ll get to an answer.

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