Rethinking College Athletics

Monday, November 7, 2022 - In the second half of their conversation with Victoria Jackson and Matt Brown, Michael and Jeff dive into "Name Image Likeness," paying student athletes, and what shifting professional pathways to sports can mean for rethinking college athletics overall. This episode made possible with sponsorship from Course Hero and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Michael Horn:

When Victoria Jackson, a sports historian at Arizona State University, and Matt Brown, who writes a newsletter called Extra Points, about all the off the field issues that shape college sports, joined us earlier this season on future you to talk about the stunning news about the continued realignment of the athletic conferences, and the impact on student athletes, Jeff, I think we issued fair warning that it was worth holding onto your seat belts, because there would be a part two.

Jeff Selingo:

Indeed, we did, Michael, and part two of that conversation has arrived, in which we take a deep dive with Victoria and Matt, a name, image and likeness, paying student athletes, agents, and more, on this episode of Future U.


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Michael Horn:

I'm Michael Horn.

Jeff Selingo:

And I'm Jeff Selingo. Michael, let's just jump right back into this conversation with Victoria and Matt.

Michael Horn:

If we've been really dealing in the structure of the conferences and the NCAA and so forth, I want to start to move a little bit more toward some of the changes that impact students, and how they feel it. Look, the Big 10 conference expansion and the TV deal that comes on the heels, of course, of the NCAA adopting a uniform interim policy that, in essence, allows athletes the opportunity to benefit from their name, image and likeness, or what's known as NIL. And Matt, I'm curious, any sense of how that's going so far in these early days?

Matt Brown:

Yeah, it's a great question. I feel like I could write about NIL every day at Extra Points. I'd have something new to write about. So the only way you could answer this I, think is, because we have to first talk about what, what is NIL? I think, even though a lot of different activities can fall under that umbrella right now, we really have two different markets.

We have a market-driven NIL, where a brand, or perhaps a camp, or somebody wanting private lessons, will partner with an athlete, because they want some kind of bona fide commercial benefit from that interaction. Like when Buffalo Wild Wings sponsors an offensive line group, they're not doing it because they really care very deeply about who plays at Michigan State. They're doing it because they're trying to buy earned media, or buy access, to their accounts.

I think, by and large, I would say this, the stat world has been a net positive. There's a lot of friction in this marketplace. It hasn't grown nearly as large as maybe some venture capital groups or activists thought it might last year.

There's some mental health or more existential questions that maybe we could talk about for that world. But I would argue, and I think a lot of other close observers would, that system is better than what we had before, particularly for women athletes, who, by and large, don't have the opportunity to make $500,000 in salary after graduation, and maybe enjoying the peak of their potential popularity, which is not always true for football and men's basketball.

But we also have a completely different NIL group, and I colloquially refer to this as Bagman NIL. You're seeing this with the rise of a lot of third party collective groups, and occasionally, through some local businesses, where you are essentially laundering money through a, sometimes a charity, sometimes a local business, sometimes a donor group, to give somebody basically a shadow salary.

They'll either stay at a particular institution, or enroll somewhere else. This has been happening and since 1902, I mean, Yale and Princeton and Harvard did this when we were wearing leather helmets, and nobody played football outside of New England. And we could find people in the newspaper archives that freaked out about it, too. So that isn't new.

The idea of that, of there now being, I think, institutional caliber fundraising around these endeavors, that's new. And there's some significant gaps in the infrastructure to support athletes. And actually, while I'm excited to see people get money that they deserve, because they're driving value, I have a lot of concerns that the bagman market is creating a different kind of exploitation by different people, especially, I would say, by agents.

Because if you are an agent that represents an athlete in the NFL or the NBA, you have to be certified by that union. And generally, that benchmark is pretty strict.

You typically have to have a law degree, you typically have to have years of negotiating experience. And it's in the union's best interest to say, "We don't want any yahoo off the street to come in here, and rip any of our people off."

But I say this, not as a humorous exaggeration to prove a point, but to be completely literal. Right now, there's nothing stopping a 19-year-old who's still an undergrad from saying, "I'm an agent now," and representing their dorm mate. That literally happens right now. I've done some of these deals to promote my publication.

I picked up the phone, thought I was talking to somebody my age, and it's a 20-year-old. But then you have to explain what is actually legally required to you, to fill out these compliance forms? And because of that dichotomy, you're seeing athletes right now that are getting some really bad advice, advice that's really meant to enrich the agent in the short term, advice that maybe pushing them to transfer schools, or to pick schools that they don't really want to do, or that aren't aligned with their academic or long term professional athletic earning potential, or to potentially get in trouble with the IRS.

I would be shocked if we don't have some significant NIL lawsuits over the next six months, either with the IRS not being paid, with an athlete not being paid, or with a brand not getting their deliverable. Part of that is just because this system was created with absolutely no guard rails whatsoever.

Michael Horn:

There are some fascinating topics around here, around student success, student well-being, frankly, economic and financial literacy questions around these students, and so forth. And I think we want to come back to the question of agents more in a moment.

But thinking about all these arrangements we've just talked about, they're still all third party compensation arrangements. They're not from the schools themselves. So Victoria, I'm curious where you come out on this. Do you think athletes ought to be getting a cut of this money from the Big 10 deal?

I mean, it seems, like Ohio State's, excuse me, the Ohio State's quarterback, CJ Stroud at ...

Matt Brown:

Thank you. Okay.

Michael Horn:

Yup, there we go, thinks they should. Let, Let's just give a quick listen to his answer, to a reporter's question this summer.

CJ Stroud:

It would definitely mean a lot, not only to the players, but to the coaches and the whole. I think even the school would appreciate just giving us maybe a little something, you know what I mean? Just because we're putting so much work while we're here, nobody's looking.

All the time that goes into it is definitely tough, but then, you take time away from your family. I'm 2,000 miles away from home. I don't want anybody to feel bad for me. But at the same time, I mean, it does take a lot of courage. It does take a lot of heart to be here, for day in and day out, year and year out.

I definitely think it should be shared, but if not, I mean, but at the end of the day, we have the IO space, but we can do it that way. So I mean, the new college world has definitely turned around, and I'm here for it.

Michael Horn:

Victoria, is he right?

Victoria Jackson:

Well, taking what CJ Stroud just said, and alongside what Matt had just described to us, the easier thing for schools to be doing, rather than try to control that chaos, and mess that Matt described, is to introduce pay for football players, and employee status. That's a lot easier than trying to wrangle in the wildness of what Matt described, and that, alongside CJ Stroud being correct.

What's great is, speaking of these outside forces making sure schools do the right thing, is that we have one of our next antitrust lawsuits making its way through the courts, this one in Judge Claudia Wilkins's court, again. She's a familiar face in these college sports antitrust suits, and it has to do with NIL being sold in these media rights deals.

So that's precisely how we can get pay, because what's the value in these massive billion dollar media rights being sold? The value is athlete performances, and those athletes deserve a cut of that deal. If we're speaking about Power Five football in particular, the acceleration of this money ... And it's not a bubble that's going to be burst.

The value of live sports is here to stay, because we don't have appointment, TV sitcoms anymore. It's live sports that carries the big price tag. It's not going away. From $2 billion a year to $4 billion a year, and it's increasing from there, just among the conferences of football, absolutely, they deserve a cut of that.

The other piece related to this is that professional sports around the world have collapsed the boundary between sports and education. Most professional sports leagues include education in their compensation packages. So this no pay hard line because it's education, it just doesn't cut from that perspective, either.

Jeff Selingo:

So Victoria, I'm kind of curious about that, because you've mentioned football in particular, but if they get compensation, how might, would that work for athletes in every sport? There seems to be this myth, at least among parents that I talk to, of the "sports scholarship," and not even every sport in Division I award scholarships that cover the entire cost of every athlete's education. So when we talk about compensation, are we talking about compensation across the board here, do you think?

Victoria Jackson:

I think you set up a system so that if volleyball takes off, volleyball athletes deserve a cut of that deal, too. You build in media rights revenue sharing for all sports as the foundation, and if it's being tapped into, it's being tapped into. If it isn't, it isn't.

But there's certainly value for volleyball right now, gymnastics also. So there are many women's sports, softball, my goodness. NCAA college softball is probably the best product in college sports, at Women's College World Series.

So yeah, I mean, you set up a structure in which all sports have a potential to benefit, as far as media rights revenue sharing, but at the end of the day, football is a sport apart. And what has allowed this to continue in this way for so long is pretending all sports are the same, and all athletes are deserving of the same benefits.

A cross country runner, track and field runner like me, what I'm participating in is very different from the football games that we watch on Saturdays. That's okay. There's value in that, too.

What I'd really like to see among the Olympic sports is a two-tier model. I want to see vertical integration with national governing bodies, so that my sport, USA Track and Field is involved in the collegiate space, and the hosting of championships, at the elite kind of Olympic development level.

And then, a return to a scholastic sport model. What we saw in women's college sports before Title IX, ironically, when it was run out of women's PE, where there's just more participation opportunities at a local scale, high school sports writ large. That two-tiered model is going to return to the community, and students serving value of college sports, as well.

Jeff Selingo:

Then, Matt, then there's the issue of who holds all the power, and who is looking out for the athlete. And in professional sports, athletes have agents, who are certified.

I don't know, are these agents now working in the collegiate space, or is this like the Wild West? And what does that mean for athletes?

Matt Brown:

A couple of them are, and a few of the largest agencies have gotten involved in this world. If you're somebody like CJ Stroud, or Bryce Young, or a truly elite, Olympic caliber gymnast, you will attract interest from an established, well-regarded, well-trained agency firm. But that's not the case for most athletes.

You're seeing a rush, I think, into this profession from undergraduates, from people that run other kind of marketing firms, from people that maybe we would colloquially refer to as street agents, or runners, or affiliated parties that have always been a part of college athletics. It is a significant problem, in my opinion, that there aren't great voices, that the entire operation is just to represent the interests of athletes.

The NCAA, in court and in practice, has made it clear that's not coming from them. Athletes, in their informal governance, have comparatively very little voice. There's still pretty significant legal and operational logistical challenges to organizing an athlete union.

It would be much easier if their athletes could collectively bargain over their working conditions, and their playing conditions with management, like they do in other sports. But that would also be one of the youngest and most transient unions in the world, not just in the United States, but globally.

And I think anybody that you would talk to on the labor side would say, "Organizing unions is really, really hard." What we saw in the pre-COVID era, with the fits and starts of athlete organization, most of them just got completely steamrolled.

So I am not optimistic that that, even with a court order, is coming in the next six to nine months. Just because it's going to take longer on that to get everyone to sign a card. Then you're left with, "Well, there's a couple of journalists that kind of do it, and a couple of agents that kind of do it."

You might have one or two ADs, or SWAs, out of the goodness of their heart, and maybe one or two university presidents. But when the rubber hits the road, there isn't a great centralized voice to say, "All I care about is advocating for this group of athletes."

Michael Horn:

Obviously, grad students have wrestled with this unionization push in some schools as well, but I want to follow up on a different piece, there, Matt. I'm curious, what does this all do for the recruiting part of the equation?

You mentioned the transfer piece earlier, but I'm thinking of NIL, for instance. If I were running an athletic department, wouldn't I want to put people in a place that helps athletes make the most in that area? Because it could help my recruiting.

So I've seen some writing that suggests that at least some schools have started to embrace this direction. But I'm not sure how widespread or deep those operations are.

Matt Brown:

Yeah, what I can tell you is that everybody will say that they are in public, because you will look terrible, if you get in front of a microphone right now and say, "Boy, I don't know about this NIL stuff. We should go back to how it was in 1997."

You'll get eviscerated by assistant coaches, but assistant coaches on the recruiting trail will also lie about anything in any sport, and then, that's just the facts of this business. What I have seen in practice, though, is that there is a difference between a school saying, "We care about NIL, we want to give our athletes the resources to develop that part of themselves and to be successful, and that happening in practice."

I'm sure everyone here who's affiliated at higher education, and knows professors, and knows administrators, is very well aware there's a difference between having content knowledge, and being able to be an effective communicator. I think a lot of middle aged folks, God bless them in the NIL world, that have tried to get involved here, have forgotten that a college athlete, regardless what the NCAA says, they're spending 30 hours a week, minimum, on their craft as an athlete.

They're also going to class. They also probably want to play Call of Duty occasionally, or maybe go on a date, or do something that has nothing to do with athletics. which means, when they get hauled into a meeting to go talk about, "Here's a rep we brought in from Fidelity, to talk about retirement planning, and financial freedom."

Nobody is listening, and I hear this from so many athletes about a lot of well-intentioned educational programming is just not clicking, even at gigantic big brand institutions, like Arizona State or Michiga and North Carolina. The percentage of athletes that are doing anything with  NIL right now, it's under 40%.

Across mid-majors, four-year institutions where I think people do have value, I would estimate the industry standard is probably under 10%. It's rare that I talk to somebody at a Sanford or a Belmont or Southern Illinois where it's more than that. I think people want to do the right thing, but they haven't figured out how to do it yet.

Jeff Selingo:

So let's just talk about the future and wrap up there. Matt, what's next on the horizon?

It seems that major intercollegiate athletics are becoming, as we've said along here, less distinguishable from professional sports, and in many ways. We have games on almost every night. Penn State, where I grew up going to football games, might start selling beer at the stadium. We haven't even talked about sports betting.

Matt Brown:


Jeff Selingo:

So what's next?

Matt Brown:

Boy, that's a tough question. I mean, I would say, very generally, that you're right, the trend of college athletics becoming more and more indistinguishable on the professional side is true. And I would say that's true, not just at the power five level, but you're going to see some of that, at mid-venture places.

Penn State is not going to be the only place that's going to be selling beer. That's a standard at mid-major places all over the South, increasingly in the West. You're going to see these schools try to license and slap their logo on everything that they possibly can, including things that 20 years ago would have seemed horrific.

You're also going to see more and more pressure from, not just athletes themselves, but from outside groups, and from within the faculty, about better empowering and protecting athletes, not just financially, but protect them from abuse, protect them from forces that might rob their ability to pursue their academic dreams, and major in what they want to, and study what they want to, be protected from injury. This has been a common push for reform. This is what a lot of the college athletics reform movement outside of NIL has really pushed for.

I imagine that's going to grow louder, especially since the NCAA's previously more bulletproof record in the courts is completely out the window. In a post-Alston world, I would imagine there are plenty of district judges and attorneys looking for plaintiffs that would love to go take a whack at that pinata.

Michael Horn:

As we wrap up here, Victoria, I'm curious that there's the famous NCAA commercial that always reminds us that most student athletes "go pro in something other than sports." So wrap us up here, by putting this all in some sort of perspective for our audience.

Do we risk overplaying the significance of all this by focusing so much on the sports that Americans think about when you say "college athletics," namely football and men's basketball? Or is this the right conversation to be having?

Victoria Jackson:

Yeah, athletes and Division I football and men's basketball represent 3.5% of the total number of college athletes? That's what we've been talking about. That dominates the conversation.

Those athletes sell higher education to American families. College is not an education. Education is one part of what it means to go to college. What schools are selling is a college experience, and football represents that, on big screens and homes around the country. Ian Bogost, at Washington University, in St. Louis, wrote a really important piece in the Atlantic.

He was trying to answer the question of why did all these families send their freshman children to college in the fall of 2020? That was his answer, that there's this idea of being entitled to a college experience, and a full college experience, and football is that. So these athletes do matter more than that 3.5%,is what I'm getting at, because they're selling what it means to go to college beyond their campuses.

They're selling higher education to Americans. So that's unbelievably important, I think, to keep in mind, that the industry of higher education is dependent on college football as much as college sports, and the industry of college sports.

Basketball is going to sort itself out, also. Adam Silver, I think, is doing that, because it's a global sport. The "one and done," that one-year rule, is going to go away soon.

There's already so many different alternative pathways to the NBA, that men's college basketball is not going to be what it is right now, five years from now. So I think that's important, too.

But this idea that all these college athletes are going pro and something other than sport? They could do both. I did both. I went pro in sport, and I went pro in school. I turned pro, and I mean, it was a poor professional sport to be a professional track and field athlete.

You are an independent contractor. So if you want to learn about NIL, go to the poor professional sport of track and field to see all of the mess of what that looks like. But we can do both, and I think, introducing lifetime scholarships in a substantive way, getting better at building all of what we've been discussing around NIL education into academic programming for athletes, like getting more creative with what a college scholarship means, and what academic credit looks like, slowing down timelines.

I mean, the opportunity here is to rethink how to better serve athletes in the many different sports that they're participating in, and in large part, a defending of the status quo is what has prevented it, the reimagination of athlete education, in many forms. So I think there are many people in higher education who understand this.

What we need is an opportunity to empower them to get to work, to build it. Now is the best time to do that with everything in flux, I think.

Jeff Selingo:

Great. Victoria, Matt, thank you so much for joining us today on Future U.

Matt Brown:

It was my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Victoria Jackson:

Me too. Thank you so much.

Jeff Selingo:

With that, from our conversation with Victoria and Matt, we'll take a short break, and be right back on Future U.

This episode is being brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Today's college students are more than just students. They are workers, parents, and caregivers and neighbors, and colleges and universities need to change to meet their changing needs. Learn more about the foundation's efforts to transform institutions to be more student-centered at

Michael Horn:

Welcome back to Future U. A lively conversation, Jeff, with a lot of angles we could explore, and I'll take us in a direction and we'll see where we end up. So Jeff, look, you've been covering higher education for a few decades now.

A lot of these arguments around, should you or shouldn't you pay student athletes, they're not necessarily new, but it does feel like the momentum is on the side of what Victoria said ought to happen, that students ought to get a cut of the money that the colleges are bringing in. I'm on the record as agreeing with her. I think it's time.

I'll also note that I think her argument that paying the student athletes directly as employees of the university is a far more preferable arrangement than the current NIL craziness with the ugly agent dynamic that Matt talked about. Maybe "emerging dynamic" is a nicer way of saying that, less judgmental, but to me, it's yet one more, very convincing argument that it's high time colleges changed their relationship with student athletes.

As you know, we've both, I think covered unionization efforts of grad students at different schools as reporters. This question of becoming employees, and then having a union represent you, that's a piece of all this, as well, where I'd love your take. And maybe more than your, take your perspective, actually, so less your opinion.

But the vast number of presidents and admissions officers and others you have relationships with, do you have a sense of where they stand on these questions around paying student athletes, and what their arguments are, if they have a different view from what Victoria expressed?

Jeff Selingo:

Well, I'm not quite sure a lot of them have a strong view. If they do, they're probably against it. But I think, overall, presidents are woefully unprepared for what's happening right now in college athletics, Michael. I recall this great story about a decade ago from a president in the Big 10, who was telling me they had this gathering of college presidents.

They were talking about football, and the president of this other Big 10 university, who was sitting next to them, turns to them and says, "What are we talking about? Is this football?" They literally didn't even know the sport that they were talking about.

I'm curious to know, to be honest with you, how many presidents were college athletes in their own day? That doesn't mean you have to be a college athlete yourself to care about it as a president, but to be honest with you, at many of these big time universities, ADs, or athletic directors, are really running the shop, and that's where the power is.

I think presidents, in particular, given all the things that they're dealing with, tend to cede that power until something bad happens. We saw that at Penn State, we saw that at Michigan State. We saw that at USC. We see that over and over again, with something bad happening, and at the Athletic Department, and the president is just clueless about what's going on.

I think, in many ways, if college presidents had to spend a season in the life of an athlete, I think things might change. I'm still struck by something Victoria walked us through in the last episode, where she talked about how so much of what's happening right now is built around football, but yet that might have the least impact here, with time zones and travel, and injuries and lack of sleep, and mental health, really impacting other sports beyond football.

Let's put a president in the life of those athletes for a season, by the way, maybe even a month. And trust me, I'm not quite sure they'll do it. They could do it. I'm not quite sure either of us could do it. After listening to that episode again recently, I got really angry, in many ways, that we're doing this to the athletes who are getting the least out of these deals.

Finally, I wonder also about the role that boards play. Boards really, I think, typically hesitate to act on athletics, except when they're forced to. We really haven't equipped them to be deliberate and act, in many ways. They don't really ask a lot of questions. I think they need to be armed with a list of questions they should be routinely asking.

Michael, I'm interested to get your take on something I think you're very familiar with, the Education Quality Outcome Standards Board. What if we had something similar in college athletics, where they're going to be externally audited on a regular basis, where these athletic departments, they're looked at, there's incentives, there's sanctions, there's processes.

And if all of these things happen by an external auditor, might boards be forced to provide some integrity and compliance around athletics in a way that they are not right now? I mean, obviously regional accreditors are involved in a little bit, but they don't really have teeth.

We saw that down at the University of North Carolina. But it's clear to me that boards and presidents are not adequately equipped for what has happened to college athletics over the last 30 to 40 years.

Michael Horn:

I think it's such an interesting idea, Jeff. I confess I never thought about it, until you raise it. And I can just imagine, as a tool to empower the boards, right, with giving them very clear information around, what are their goals for their program, what are the things that they say our student athletes should be doing, and what are the things that we don't want them doing, and have very clear insight into it?

That would be everything from graduation rates, to do they have time to study, and things of that nature? Where are they actually allocating time? I think it'd be fascinating for boards and ask, "Is this really in the spirit of what we want our university to be doing?" I think it's a very interesting idea.

I think the other question, though, it points to Jeff, is who has the power to, in fact, change the model? And as we're setting, as we're talking about this, I'm getting more conviction on the other three topics I want to make sure we hit.

One possibility is the notion of the two-tiered model that Victoria described. So this notion that you'd have vertical integration of the Olympic sports, with the national governing bodies, and I think, by implication, greater connection for basketball and football with their professional leagues. That would certainly, I think, change the power dynamic from the schools and conferences, potentially.

And then, the second tier of this, as Victoria described it, of course, is the restoration of PE and that participation mindset of athletics, the clubs, intramurals. As you know, Jeff, from my book, From Reopen to Reinvent, I'm strongly in favor of more individuals doing far more fitness, as just part of their student experience in high school and the like. Not just with a sports bias, but with a fitness bias, but fitness bias.

I think that participatory piece is so critical, as is the notion of using fitness to build up healthy habits of lifelong fitness and wellness, so that more individuals can reach their potential as human beings. So in my mind, the suggestion by Victoria isn't just smart for the varsity athletes, in sports like volleyball, or track and field or gymnastics, but those, as well as for all students, because we're not just trying to build lifelong learners in school, in my view, but also individuals who will commit to lifetimes of healthy habits more generally.

But I guess, let's stay on the question of vertical integration itself, Jeff, because it might wrest power away from colleges in conferences in some interesting and perhaps unpredictable ways. I don't know if that's a good answer to the student athlete health question, mind you, given the scandals we've seen in, say, USA Gymnastics, or even more recently with women's soccer and the like.

But I guess I'm curious, Jeff, do you think that vertical integration might start to change the power dynamics, and start to move some of these the way they've always been done, if you will?

Jeff Selingo:

Michael, I love this idea. A producer of a national show that's doing something on college athletics asked me recently, "Why do American colleges have athletic departments in the first place?"

This idea really brings back the notion of why we had athletics in the first place at college and universities, in terms of mind, body and spirit. It's clear the current system is broken. Me and you talk a lot about our kids on this podcast, and I realize that maybe all parents see the world differently through the eyes of their children.

I wasn't an athlete growing up, but I think the big difference, I think, we can all agree on now between my generation, Gen X and now Gen Z, is the growing specialization of sports. My daughters are 10 and 12, about to turn 11 and 13. And basically, as they finally decide what sports they like to do, and by the way, let's add the pandemic in here, with two years, where they weren't able to really do a lot of stuff, they're now doing things with kids who decided, or maybe their parents did, at age five or six or seven, that this was their sport.

Now I'm not critical at all, if those kids like those sports that they started so much earlier, but we're building this college system, basically starting way back in elementary school. And there's this hyper-specialization that happens, because when I'm talking to parents, I think a lot of parents want their kids to get that sports scholarship, which is largely a myth. And we probably should talk about that at some point.

Or, as I talk about in my last book, and who gets in and why, sports really gives you a leg up in the admissions process, especially at selective colleges. So I would love to have a model where sports is again, just part of that mind-body spirit in higher education, and we have this pre-professional league, but where athletes are just part of a broader wellness program.

So we have the pre-professional league in certain sports, and then, in other sports, it's just a great wellness program for more students who want to participate. I think a lot about my daughter in middle school now, where they have wellness, where we used to have health growing up, but more important, they're required to play a sport which takes the place of physical education, and they have to do that every season.

Maybe they don't want to do a team sport, so they have to do yoga or light conditioning, or spinning and such. As I was thinking about her in middle school, I'm like, "Why not bring that model to the college level, where everybody has to participate in some sort of wellness and physical education?"

Michael Horn:

Jeff, I totally agree, and I know we keep looking for places to disagree on this show, but this is not going to be one of them, because, and David Epstein's voice is loudly in my head right now. He's the author of the book Range, for those that don't know. And read it if you don't know it.

It's an incredible book about the dangers of early specialization, frankly, or at least how that generally doesn't result in success, as in the Roger Federers, who do lots of sports, and only specialize later, are far more common than the Tiger Woods stories. But I guess I'm stuck on this question of who has the power, and what could change things?

Because, as you know, and it sort of comes off of what you just said, the other thing I'm drawn to is more of a European model of sport, where athletics isn't quite so coupled with the schools themselves. But of course, I'm not naive.

I get why giving up the culture of varsity sports, and especially football and basketball, would be a problem for so many schools, and alumni communities, and even their business models. But I've always been drawn to the model of having these sports be for-profit affiliates, quite frankly, Jeff, where they would have employee relationships with the students at these schools, and take it, as it were, the question of their elite athletic participation out of the jurisdiction of the schools themselves.

So there'd still be a connection, for fan and marketing purposes, but it would be entirely separate from governance and like. I guess we talked a lot about the courts, and the different power structures that are changing things up.

But it seems to me the other thing that could change this, frankly, is the IRS, namely, saying, "Forget about taxing the endowment question. You know that big time athletics program at some of these schools? They're really unrelated business income. And they should be taxed as such."

Anything in the offing like that, Jeff, you think? Or is this just wishful thinking on my part?

Jeff Selingo:

Unfortunately, I think it might be wishful thinking on your part, because I think this is just so ingrained in our culture and in our society.

Again, I go back to the scandals at Penn State, and Michigan State and USC, and you just name the list, go down and down, and nothing changed. So it is probably wishful thinking on your part.

But I want to finish with one set of statements, because we've spent a whole two episodes on this question of college athletics. Of course, we're just scratching the surface here, and we may not spend, I don't want to promise we're definitely not going to spend more time on athletics this season, but we don't have any plans at this point.

But I think it's worth going back to this question about, why even spend two episodes? When, for those attending Division I schools, for example, the participation rate of students in varsity sports was 11.5%, for example.

In Division II, it's 15.7, in Division III it's, 21.5. So we're still talking about under 25% at any of these institutions, in terms of students participating in sports.

As we learned from Victoria and Matt, among Division I men's basketball and football, which, of course, gets all the attention on TV and in the press. We're talking about only 3.5% of total athletes, and less than 40% of these athletes, are doing anything with name and image and likeness, as we heard.

Across the mid majors, so less elite programs. Matt thought it was less than 10% doing anything like it. I think it comes back to what Victoria said, that these athletes really sell college, and the idea of college, to American families. Because college is that experience, and not just the classroom.

As I saw in my reporting for who gets in and why, it also is such a big part of the admissions process. They really see parents and students, increasingly, especially at elite colleges, are really seeing it as a way in. So I don't think it's going to play a lesser part in our society. I think it's actually going to continue to play as much, if not even more, of how we think about higher education.

Michael Horn:

It's well said, Jeff, all around, and an important reminder that these expenditures don't just show up as marketing dollars, but they're both that, as well as a big piece of shaping up what is the American college experience for many 18- to-22-year olds, as well as their broader communities, at a time when views of college are at historic lows. That's worth keeping in mind when we talk about sports and colleges, both the positives and the negatives of those dynamics. Because they do matter.

With that, we'll wrap up this particular episode, and offer a big thank you to Victoria and Matt for helping us through two fascinating episodes on this season of Future U. for all of you, for listening and your thoughts. And we'll be back next time, on Future U.

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