Let's Pretend revisited

© 2016 Jim Spence - Most journalists graduate from colleges and universities with horrible anti-business biases. The idea of reporting who, what, where, when, and how has been replaced with a regular game of "Let's Pretend." For most journalists playing “Let’s Pretend,” is perceived as their highest calling. And their favorite narrative for the last eight years has been, “Obama saved the world from collapse.” This is of course a popular fantasy. 

The game of "Let's Pretend" is not confined to presidential politics. It applies to the spreading of ignorance in every phase of our society. One of the most fascinating forms of “Let’s Pretend” is the one that enables America to somehow be persuaded that Power Five Conference athletics is "amateur" athletics. Consider what the NCAA has to say on the subject on its own website:

Amateur competition is a bedrock principle of college athletics and the NCAA. Maintaining amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority. In the collegiate model of sports, the young men and women competing on the field or court are students first, athletes second.”

When I read this assertion I was reminded of a video excerpt of a panel discussion I was watching a few years ago on ESPN. Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer and Alabama football coach Nick Saban were on the panel. Nick Saban actually made a statement that no individuals are making money off of college football, because the money that is made is all recycled back through each university.

To Urban Meyer’s credit, he politely chastised Saban. Meyer suggested Saban would make a helluva lawyer.........before reminding him of the gigantic salaries that head coaches make for coaching college football including himself and Saban. Here is a sampling of the highest compensation levels: Jim Harbaugh at Michigan makes $9 million per year. Nick Saban at Alabama makes $6.94 million per year. Urban Meyer at Ohio State makes $6.095 million. Bob Stoops at Oklahoma makes $5.55 million. Jimbo Fisher at Florida State makes $5.25 million. Oh yes, recently fired Texas head coach Charlie Strong was making $5 million per year. Strong was owed another $10 million when he was terminated. Dabo Swinney is making a cool $5.1 million per year to coach “amateurs.” Swinney had this to say about compensating the kids who risk a life of debilitating injuries to line his pocket:

“As far as paying players, professionalizing college athletics, that's where you lose me. I'll go do something else, because there's enough entitlement in this world as it is.”

Swinney’s comment regarding "entitlement" is comical. No doubt what he might do is move on to the NFL where the laborers in that industry already get paid. But for now Swinney is comfortable embracing entitlement in his own life. In Swinney's delusional mind he is perfectly "entitled" to make $5.1 million per year in a multi-billion dollar entertainment business, while using players, many who have market values in the millions, for the value of a scholarship. What is their true value? Only the market knows. Like so many others, Swinney wants to keep it that way.

The NCAA itself takes in more than a billion dollars a year in revenue on March Madness alone. Tack on the money coming in thanks to the college football playoffs and well.......you get the picture.

The point to be made here is actually pretty simple. Market forces are at work in college athletics no matter what the NCAA says about athletes being students first. The NCAA may cap the compensation of its labor pool at the value of a scholarship, but the NCAA sells rights to broadcasts to the highest bidders. Accordingly, schools bid for coaching talent in the MARKET place. It is the market that forces schools to pay top coaches millions of dollars per year. Nobody is capping coaches salaries. Coaches make more money than college presidents.

Image result for ncaa logoPerhaps the greatest of all ironies in the perverted market of Power Five college athletics is how higher education institutions, schools that are notorious for acting as breeding grounds for anti-capitalist, anti-business, anti free market, and particularly anti-monopoly economic philosophies, actually protect their own cash producing monopolies like John Rockefeller protected his oil interests. Collegiate athletic cartels have formed. They are called conferences. The most noteworthy business cartel in college athletics is a free market perverting organization known as the Power Five Conferences. This is a cartel pure and simple. It engages in rigging competition to ensure that the lion’s share of the money made in college athletics stays within those select few schools. Of course these activities, which take place in a multi-billion dollar industry, constitute market-price and wage fixing. Of course the rigging goes unpunished because America has been taught to "pretend" collegiate sports should somehow be granted an exemption from the strict anti-trust laws that apply to almost all other commercially competitive endeavors.

Consider recent efforts by collegiate players to force the NCAA to share more fairly in the incredible bounties generated by the player’s labors. These efforts have been beaten back by an army of lawyers. It was the Northwestern University players who attempted to unionize a few years ago. Otherwise pro-union academic institutions fought tirelessly in the courts to keep from sharing a few nickels with the players. And astonishingly, Mr. Obama’s own pro-union NLRB decided to support the elites who run the plantations at these schools instead of the laborers making most of the sacrifices.

While everyone is pretending the NCAA laborers are merely amateur student athletes, the Power Five conferences are literally swimming in cash thanks to unrestrained success in the free market of the entertainment industry. Visit any athletic department at virtually any Power Five school in the nation and you will run across more over-paid bureaucrats than any place except Washington D.C. and the state capitols.  When a “non-profit” is swimming in cash thanks to low fixed labor costs, all sorts of dubious spending schemes get developed to absorb that cash including multi-million dollar coaches salaries and bureaucrats making six figures to shove papers around their desks.

It was fascinating last month to see the media react to announcements by Christian McCafferey (Stanford), Leonard Fournette (LSU), and Shock Linwood (Baylor). Each of these players with promising NFL careers in front of them, said they were skipping their team’s bowl games to prepare for the upcoming NFL draft. Some pundits on ESPN said the actions were understandable, considering the “market value” of these players and the risk of injury that could cost them millions of dollars. Others decided to become indignant and pretend there are no market forces. Those judging these players harshly included coaches and former coaches, many of these critics had made millions of dollars per year teaching young men to risk the possible permanent sacrifice of their healthy bodies.......for scholarship peanuts.......while the coaches and bureaucrats made millions.

My point here is not to argue whether or not college athletics fits the so-called mission statement of the institutions. And it is not to argue whether players should be compensated for the risks they take to line the Power Five conference school’s pockets with untold millions in revenue. And I certainly do not begrudge great coaches their salaries. The market works well.....not perfectly.....but better than anything else. The point here is actually best posed as a question. Why allow part of a multi-billion dollar market to be rigged, and rigged against those taking the most risks?

People can “pretend” that government can serve as a legitimate alternative to the free market all they want. College football and basketball is government football and basketball. In this multi-billion dollar revenue space the free market has been perverted. Grasping reality requires us to recognize that individuals participating in rigged markets simply adapt to all restrictive perversions. Christian McCafferey, Leonard Fournette, and Shock Linwood made common sense MARKET-based decisions to not play in for-profit exhibition games disguised as "amateur" endeavors. They where NOT going to take the risks while others reaped the rewards.

Speaking of markets that have become perverted, Democrats lined up this week to pretend that Obamacare is immune from market forces too. Democrats would have us believe that forcing healthcare providers to work for artificially low compensation has no consequences. They would have us believe that forcing workers to overpay for health insurance has no consequences. It was so perfectly fitting to watch the Democrat's latest charade.

Like most journalists, Democrats love to pretend market forces don't exist. Others usually pay the price for their childish games.