ORLANDO, Fla. — To all of those “exploited” college athletes and to the many critics of the NCAA who are lauding the recent landmark decision by the Dartmouth basketball team to unionize so they can be considered employees of the university, just remember this:

Be careful what you wish for.

You may think you are fighting for the future of college athletes everywhere, but more likely you will end up costing countless athletes a chance at a brighter future.

For most big corporations, paying your employees a good salary with benefits is a noble idea, but it doesn’t really work in the current business structure of college athletics. If college athletes want to be treated like other employees in the real world then they are in for a rude awakening.

The Dartmouth basketball team, for instance, has had 24 straight losing seasons, finished last in the Ivy League again this year and is a consistent money-loser for the school’s athletic program. In the real world, do you know what happens to the employees in the branch of a company that continually loses money and underperforms? Those employees get laid off and are out of work.

Likewise, this is what might happen to many of the non-revenue Olympic sports at colleges throughout the United States. If there comes a day when college athletic programs are responsible for paying all of their student-athletes then you know what’s going to happen, right? Athletic directors will start cutting and slashing programs like tennis, track, swimming and golf in order to make their budget.


Even if colleges end up having to pay only the athletes on their football and men’s basketball teams, which are the only sports on most campuses that turn a profit, even the largest athletic programs are going to have to drastically rework their budgets.

“That money (to pay players) is not currently available,” University of Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin says bluntly. “Something would have to give; whether it’s fewer people on staff, fewer services for our student-athletes or – what we don’t want to have happen but what some people envision – having fewer sports.”

Says UCF Athletic Director Terry Mohajir: “I’m very concerned about the collateral damage to the Olympic sports, if there’s a new revenue model in college athletics. I worry when we have to start making triage decisions on cost. I hope we can figure this out without eliminating sports and educational opportunities.”

Sadly, in today’s world, most of the discussion about college sports focuses on players jumping from school to school chasing NIL money while schools are jumping from conference to conference chasing TV money. Whatever happened to the true mission of college athletics – providing educational opportunities for kids who might not otherwise be able to afford it?

As Mohajir often points out, “Besides the G.I. Bill, there has never been a scholarship program to help the youth of America change their family’s circumstances more than intercollegiate athletics.”

Did you know that NCAA institutions provide nearly $4 billion in athletic scholarships annually to more than 180,000 student-athletes? Many of these athletes would not have the financial wherewithal or academic credentials to get into college without sports. And 99% of these athletes will not play professionally and therefore will go into the real-world job market after graduation.


“I know first hand the benefit of a college scholarship,” Mohajir says. “I wasn’t an elite athlete, but I was able to get a football scholarship to a smaller school (Arkansas State). If not for that scholarship, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college. Do you know how many millions of kids through the years were able to change their circumstances in life because they were able to get a college scholarship through playing sports?”

If and when colleges start cutting sports just to pay for the football team, what happens to all of those Olympic sport athletes who suddenly don’t get a college scholarship? And what happens to the United States Olympic movement, which has vastly benefited from a collegiate feeder system whereby Division I schools spend an estimated $5 billion annually on Olympic sports, according to Stricklin?

“We’re the only country in the world that combines higher education with athletics,” Stricklin says. “That’s why our Olympic program is the best in the world – because we have this unbelievable development system that no other country can pay for.”

The dilemma, of course, is that all of these Olympic sports and the entire athletic operation – the coaching staffs, the support staffs, the strength and conditioning departments, the orthopedic surgeons, the nutritionists, the tutors, the facilities, et al. – are being paid for mainly from the revenue produced by the football team.

“It’s certainly not a business model you would design from scratch,” Stricklin says. “It doesn’t quite fit in the for-profit box and it doesn’t quite fit in the non-profit box. But as Winston Churchill once said about democracy: ‘It’s the worst form of government – except for all the others.’ College athletics is similar. It has a lot of issues, but it provides a lot of opportunities for a lot of student-athletes.”

College athletic leaders, state politicians and the federal government will have to answer a very big question in the very near future: Do they really want to blow up the entire system to benefit powerhouse football programs while destroying the dreams of thousands of student-athletes across many different sports?

Be careful what you wish for.

Those unionized players on the Dartmouth basketball team may think they are fighting for the future of college sports, but, more likely, they are contributing to the demise of them.

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