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Maynard Handley

Are you really this naive, Malcolm, or is this some journalistic act?

"Peach points out that one of the principal reasons for the NCAA's existence...was to insure competitive balance among college teams."

So you believe that the reason the NCAA exists is the same as the reason it CLAIMS to exist? And you believe that Iraq had nothing to do with oil? And you believe that when GWB names a bill "The Clean Skies Act" it has to be aimed at *reducing* air pollution?

"Essentially, this principle suggests that free agency would not affect the distribution of talent but would affect the distribution of funds between owners and players. "

And who are the owners in this case? Of course THIS is the point. And you skip over it like it's some minor item. If being a member of the NCAA is so damned onerous and expensive, why don't a gaggle of colleges leave? Precisely because being part of a monopoly is a whole lot more cozy than real bargaining between players and colleges, even if it costs some dues to belong to the monopoly.


yeah,I guess you are right.We should lobby to get some of the rules,if not all,scrapped.There might still be tremendous amount of incentives after the ridiculous screening NCAA enacted ridiculous rules to impose.The world is full of incentives.You want fair play,fine.Others might want,well,just good games.Real Madrid have just about every soccer superstar in the world.You might argue it's not fair.They are denying other clubs the right,if there's such a thing in the sports sphere,to boast one superstar or two of their own,just because they are richer.Well,they might have moral point here.But we keep watching Madrid shows,don't we?Maybe games are just games which we are supposed to,well,just enjoy.So why don't we just relax and watch great HUMANBEING play great football,and cut out those Bullshit rules?!


What hard decisions? Universities would be forced to establish their own academic eligibility requirements for student athletes.

This would be a race to the bottom. Why not just pay all players closer to a living wage?

Philip Aaronson

On the one hand we have the popularity of Baseball's minor leagues absolutely exploding. On the other we have the rules and regulations of the NCAA holding onto an antiquated ideal for exploitive gain. Isn't the solution obvious?


I like the point about the high cost of compliance with NCAA regulations. Further, there are a lot of costs that are unnecessarily spent in order to lure athletes to the school. While most minor league locker rooms do not have nice leather couches and plasma screen TVs, many college football locker rooms do. As an athlete, the weight room facilities are great to use, but are more than necessary. Football coaches are paid more than their value (compare the salaries to the NFL and look at the revenue generated by each).

The reason for all of these expenditures is to get around the NCAA rules. You cannot pay the athletes, but you can make the environment around them like heaven. If you eliminated the NCAA, the more money would go directly to the athletes and less money would be frivolously wasted. Further, as you note, it would be easier to convince a donor to donate money that actually goes to an athlete rather than going towards a renovation of the athletic department lobby to help entice recruits.

However, we also need to look at whether the university is the best place for athletics in the first place. Perhaps a club or minor league system would better develop atheltes and allow universities to better aim at their goals.


Hey Mr. Gladwell,

My name is David and I was born in Elmira, NY and raised in Silver Spring, MD. I read both of your books this summer and I really enjoyed all the theories you described.
Anyway, in regards to the NCAA topic, in general, I don't care for sports partly because I think people should spend more time playing sports as opposed to watching them, and partly because people spend too much time entertaining themselves instead of making proper use of their time, and sports happens to be a big time waster. Now I bet you are wondering how does this self righteous idiot define "making proper use of their time"? I simply believe that if one does anything that is beneficial to the world, then he is "making proper use of his time." Entertainment Sports don't help anyone except the guys playing them because they get exercise from playing (I don't count Darts/Poker/Pool/whatever else is on ESPN2 as sports). The viewers don't benefit from these shows and the opportunity cost for all these people is ridculously high. Think about economic efficiency for a second.
The other problem with sports is athletes. Every single day I read about another athlete with a drug issue, a sex-related crime, a police officer mishap, a brawl, steroids, and other junk that goes on. I think that the fundamental reason that lies at the bottom of all these problems is money. These idiots all get paid a boatload of money, have huge egos, and think they are above the law. Why should you be arrested and sued for raping a girl while Kobe Bryant is roaming freely? Why should you get thrown in jail for starting a fight with a civilian while Ron Artest is galavating about? I know you can find loopholes in both my cases, but the idea is still there. I think if people avoided watching sports, period, then the money would shrink, egos would go down, ncaa would probably cease to exist, and colleges would have to figure out "more productive ways of raising money". I know you think I'm living in Neptune where everything should be perfect and you probably assume I am this naive idiot that thinks he can change the world, but as you said in your book...connectors/mavens make things change. If we can start getting the messages out, much good will come out. I guess that's all I have to add. Also, I am in college in NY now and I am always busy with reading/researching just about everything... Email me though... I want to hear what you have to say on the issue Mr. Gladwell...



Malcolm, I luv ya, but this is one of the least thought out things I've ever read. That is dissappointing in and of itself, but from you?! The horror.

There is a delicate balance being played as it is between academic institutions and sports, but to open it to the marketplace where the full irrationality of entertainment were allowed to run free (think Oprah or Tom Cruse numbers) and you have the making of a full fledged disaster.

The bottom line is that these are young people and the vast, vast majority will never play professional sports. On top of it, very few will have a career longer than a few years. Rule book and all, many of them will be better off for having gone to a college. They will at least have some academic background to fall back on (some snicker, but many college athletes get good educations from their schools).

If the free market were in play it would be something far worse than the child actor thing, that's for sure. Many of these kids would be bred for sports, and once it's over, they would be 25 without a job and with no wanted skills.

Pro sports are an embarrassement as it is (think of the last free agent bust on your team), can you imagine schools forced to engage in such free market/entertainment nonsense.

Say what you want, but College football works, and it works spectacularly. The stands are full, the games are watched, the students and alumni love it. IT's as American as it can get. Jeez, it's not broken!

The NCAA rules, in the vast majority of cases, work. In this case you are taking one oddity and throwing away the whole system because of it. Now that's dumb - and very unlike you.


Agreed the current system is insane and inhumane.

But the way to fix it is not via carte blanche capitalism.

Rather, ideas such as the following should be implemented:

Any student making any college team automatically gets 4 years of free tuition, books, food plan, and housing.

This in not revokable.

Even if the student should fail to make the team the next year. Even if the student decides to quit the team to concentrate on scholastics.

The NCAA can afford this.

And the NCAA owes this to the student athletes who generate so much revenue through their efforts.

It disguts me to no end that this hasn't beem implemented.

Christopher Horn

Last night, for the second year in a row, football factory Miami lost a titanic defensive struggle to archrival football factory Florida State by a field goal, in a highly-touted Labor Day game. There are many subplots to that story which bear on our discussion here.

First - the odd practice of not paying players must be related to the odd practice of crowning national champions in D1 football (i.e. without a playoff).

Because D1 has no playoff tournament, winning all or all-but-one of a team's games is of paramount importance to achieving a lucrative national championship. If a team were to lose it is better to lose early, which is why Miami and FSU play at Labor Day, knowing the game will be both close and highly lucrative, with the winner and loser both still having a chance at the even more lucrative national championship game.

My other points deal directly with the finances issue. Malcolm quoted an argument that complying with regulations is costly. That's misleading. Complying is an investment in a far greater payout, the unpaid college athlete.

2nd) The national championship system enhances the pressure on each player to come up big in each game. How many highly touted kickers, for example, were victims of "wide left" (Miami-FSU rivalry) and still had a profitable NFL career? Seems like none. On the reverse side, how many better-than-average college players (e.g. Shane Conlan) came up huge on their college's biggest stage and translated that into a long NFL career, with its corresponding lots of money?

If players were paid big money in college sports, the incentive to perform at the highest level in the biggest games would be lower, since they would already have "made it". The elite university needs its players to be at their best for all twelve games, and dangling the carrot in the future (that is, the NFL) is one way to guarantee that.

3rd) Where would the "big money" come from? Boosters. Who would be paying the money to students directly, rather than to the universities that profit at the students' expense.

4th) (and final) - because winning rivalry games becomes essential to prestige schools winning national championships, the byzantine regulations become a way for schools to put pressure on one another at the elite level.

In other words, who benefits from the dismissal of Rhett Bomar?

(hooked him, 'horns)


I don't see where this would stop if it started. Why wouldn't high school atheletes be any different? How would this help academics, what the university is supposed to be about? I agree with the above comment that universities setting their own academic standards could lead to disaster.

I know, occasionally, a story about an unfortunate college athlete surfaces and stirs up kind-hearted people's emotions, but destroying the entire NCAA to suit these exceptions simply can't be logically squared.

Of course revisions could be made to make the less fortunate more able to support themselves and their families.

The irony is, stories that focus on these unfortunate players probably do more harm than good from a financial standpoint. Players that might be able to fly below the radar of NCAA regulation, likely come under greater scrutiny because of the media attention to their situation.

It can't hurt to think about our emotional reaction to situations like these. And the fact is, these atheletes have a better chance at being successful than the vast majority of Americans, let alone the people with whom they grew up. They're receiving a free education in many instances, and free room and board to boot. Yeah, it's hard. But how much harder would it be without the university opportunity?


Well said, TEBran.
While there are potentially rules that could be adjusted to make the system perform better, let's be careful that the lush grass on the other side of the fence doesn't turn out to be the same as we already have.
I think the best answer is to work within the system and provide feedback on what can be improved. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, to use another cliche.

michael collins

Hmmm. If NCAA rules say people can't give him money to support his brother, what's stopping those same people from giving those donations to his 11 year old brother - say some sort of trust fund?

Adam Morse

I agree with TEBran, I love everything you have ever written Malcolm, but right now I feel like the only way your piece makes any sense is if this is actually a satirical piece and no one has realized quite just yet. I think, similar to the topics in your two books, there is more here then meets the eye. Do you really think there are hundreds of people in Marcus Detry's position? Do you really think it would create a level playing field to abolish the NCAA? Every idea you have laid out so far is purely conjecture. I think there would be a lot of negative backlash if you destroyed the NCAA. Since all you have done is look at the positives of what would happen let's look at some potential negatives.
1.Lower academic standards-now you may argue that a lot of these football and basketball players skirt around academics as it is. This is true in some circumstances...but I think that the academic standards need to be raised now...I shudder to think what would happen if schools were "setting their own standards".
2.Less money dispersal to subsidize the thousands and thousands of athletes who participate in sports that aren't "big money"...many of these programs would probably be cut and then we'd be able to counter Marcus Detry's story with an untold amount of athletes who couldn't go to their college anymore because they didn't offer their sport anymore.

3.I believe that every problem that you cite the NCAA for causing would in fact be magnified without the NCAA. There would probably be less parody. Your citing of statistics that list how often the top teams are repeatedly at the top is misleading. There are way too many underlying events occuring that dictate who keeps going back to championship games. Success (in all areas of a University not just sports) tends to breed success. I imagine that there isn't much parity in who the top academic schools have been over the last 70 years. I would imagine that there are a bunch of Ivy league schools up near the top as well as some other recognizable names that are always near the top; Stanford,Cal,Harvard, Williams, William and Mary, the list could go on. I would bet (though admittedly I have not done any research) that there is more parity in college athletics then there is in college academics. I don't hear you losing sleep over that.

I am willing to admit that I could be wrong, if you actually wrote a piece that was as well researched as your others. Until then I have to say that I am disappointed in your tactic to use one extreme sob story to try and make a point, you of all people should know that one story doesn't always equate to painting a full picture.

Eric Pennington

Welcome to the twenty-first century version of slavery!

G Baron

Interesting thoughts, Mr. Gladwell. I won't comment on whether there is merit or not to the idea of abolishing the NCAA, but rather from a crisis management standpoint. The example you provided of the athlete in need is compelling. Will this become an issue for NCAA? When they have a writer and journalist/blogger with your credentials writing such things, will it prompt a response? What kind of response? Hundreds of millions at stake, lots of careers at stake. Decisions that will affect lives and careers of thousand of athletes. Let's see if this blog creates a tempest or if it will remain in the teapot.

I will comment at crisisblogger.wordpress.com on the crisis management aspects.

Arnie McKinnis

A system that is broken does not automatically mean you press the restart button. There is a saying about throwing the baby out with the bath water.


As a recent NCAA alum and student-athlete who represented his school at NCAA discussions, I follow NCAA discussions pretty closely.

I agree that it's unfair for some athletes not to receive compensation. But you've also chosen an example of an athlete from an Ivy League, a league which prohibits member schools from giving athletic scholarships.

I actually believe Cornell was wrong to prohibit its student from receiving the gifts. Though I don't know the specifics of the gifts, the NCAA guidelines only limit gifts that are given as a result of the student-athlete's position as an athlete. I think the student here would have a strong case arguing that these gifts are a result of his other remarkable accomplishments, not his status as an athlete.

On the other hand, if we assume that the student did receive these presents as a result of his position on Cornell's football team, then the NCAA rules probably made no difference. Even without NCAA rules, the Ivies would likely enact similar rules about receiving gifts on their own, in order to keep its teams more "amateurish" than other D1 programs.

There are hundreds of examples in which one can question the advisability of the NCAA. This particular one just seems a poor choice by which to skewer the organization.

"Pink Eyed" Jim Cortina

It would be really nice if the NCAA was dropped and private donors could fully fund the large gaudy athletic programs of colleges, so that the colleges' other funds could be spent on Academics. We're in an era of massive budget cuts for higher education, if we could get the schools some extra money by lifting these regulations, perhaps we could send more people to college.


Many 'scholarly' people in this comment section and some of the others seem to have a deep resentment towards athletes and athletics in general. Which is fine - lots of people were picked on by jocks in life, or feel slighted because of the attention that the big dumb athletic guy gets...But keep in mind that athletics - specifically Football, Baseball and Basketball - are big business and also part of the fabric of society.

To suggest that schools use private sector money to fund the football team and use the schools funds for 'acadamia'.. Do you realize HOW MUCH money the football team earns for the school - and how much of that money is used to fund fringe sports (fencing?). The institutions for the top 100 or so football teams are making an INCREDIBLE amount of money, and the NCAA makes way too much money for their supposed purpose of protecting 'amatuerism'.. I live in the area of a big ACC basketball team - Does anyone really believe that star players don't get paid under the table someway during the recruiting period? It happens, it's happened for years and years... Bomar got caught, the other 99% didn't... NCAA looks good for protecting the 'kids'.

Pay the kids who are putting on the school's jersey and risking injury while lining the institutions pockets. We don't need a free agency system - Just give them a fair amount of money - perhaps you can make it merit based - I don't know of a perfect system.. But forcing kids to undermine a system to receive money through back-channel's isn't what's in the best interest of the student-athlete.

Would Jeremy Bloom (skier/snowboarder/football player) and his issues with the NCAA be relevent to this discussion? I'd like to hear Malcom's thoughts on that subject as well.

Wayne Frazer

There are certainly adjustments to be made. A fair monthly stipend to athletes, an admission that athletes at most universities are not there for an education, but rather to further their opportunities at some professional level and therefore a relaxation of admissions standards and longer periods to graduate, and guaranteed scholarships are three off the top of my head.

But allowing the universities to police themselves would simply create a mini-NFL with players skipping from campus to campus, no one administering eligibility requirements and perhaps 15-25 schools elevating themselves beyond everyone else into an elite league.


The one thing that I don't understand about a lot of this argument is the people who feel football is a huge cash cow for all these schools and they should be able to pay their atheletes to play there. Certainly there are some schools where enough money is generated to pay thier atheletes, but at schools from smaller confrences and even some schools from powerhouse confrences there just wouldn't be the money available. If schools were allowed to pay their atheletes, the non-revenue creating sports would cease to exist because sports like basketball and football are currently paying for them. Paying STUDENT-atheletes just doesn't make sense.


One problem...the NCAA (or what became the NCAA) was not created just to create competitive balance. Even if you agree that all the rules about compensating student athletes should be abolished, there would still be a role for the NCAA.

The NCAA traces its roots to a commission established at the urging of Theodore Roosevelt to set common rules for play that protected the health and safety of the players...and made the game a bit less bloody and more "civilized". Even if there were no rules about allowing student athletes to be paid, there would still be a need for things like rule-making, deciding whether to use instant replay, and other such decisions that need some coordination at a higher level so teams and conferences across the country play comparable games.

Abolishing the NCAA is not the real issue. The real issue at heand here is the "amateur" status of students and the rules the NCAA imposes specifically on academic and financial eligibility. Stick to the issue...it's what I tell my student athletes, too.


Hey, why not just continue to overpay more people who only entertain in this world. I'm pretty sure we could all live w/o them, so why are athletes paid anyway. They serve no real purpose to society. Just like actors, comedians, and video game programmers. The only thing they do is make life a little more fun and reduce intelligence and health by producing couch potatos. And we wonder why Americans are so much less healthy and intelligent on average than other countries. I could go on, but I digress. . . .


I know this is way off topic....

Browndog - Actors and comedians serve no purpose to society?

I believe history would prove that comment wrong - Plays, Jesters, and entertainment in general have served a major purpose in society for centuries - Not just Americans - What society do you think is better than the American flavor? If we eliminated all subsets of society that include paid entertainors - we'd be left with only third-world countries - Are they more healthy and more intelligent than americans?

If you are going to digress into a a xenocentric point of view - use arguments that are actually different from the societies - As I'm sure your ideal country is perfect, and America is ripe with faults.

Are cartoons, video games, and fast food bad for society - I agree that they are. But does Japan, the UK, China, Former soviet countries, or any other Non Third world country not have the same things embedded in their culture? Can we argue that the presence of those things is because of the Americanization of said countries? You can skew the statistics many ways - but in many other countries, poor children stop going to school very early - Poor children in America continue to go to school longer (free food, and opportunities to network for their future drug trades) - So yes, our test scores - on AVERAGE - are worse... but if you take our top 20% versus any other country's top 20% - would there be any difference in education or health?


It probably does not suggest the coming demise of 'amateurism' in college sport, but the NCAA has reversed its decision with regard to Ray Ray McElrathbey and his brother.

The details are available at

(3rd story down)

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