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‘Iolani’s 2017 Economics Chair Allen Sanderson

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During the week of March 13, ‘Iolani School hosted its 2017 Economics Chair, Allen Sanderson, a senior lecturer of economics at the University of Chicago. Professor Sanderson, who writes a bi-monthly column for Chicago Life and is a guest on national and Chicago area TV and radio programs, spoke to the ‘Iolani community about the economics behind collegiate athletics.

“I tend to think that the most exploited workers in the United States economy are Division I college football players and men’s basketball players,” said Sanderson. “They are worth millions of dollars to their institutions and play on teams for which they receive tuition and board, and maybe a little spending money.” According to Sanderson, these student athletes face a huge disadvantage when it comes to negotiating the future of their college careers.

“For the National Football League or the National Basketball League, on one side of the table is the league, the league’s owners, and the lawyers. On the other side of the table are the players’ agents, their lawyers, and the players’ union. At least it’s a fair fight,” said Professor Sanderson. “But in collegiate athletics, on one side of the table are the university president, the athletic director, the football coach, and their lawyers, and on the other side of the table is a 17-year-old kid and his mom. That is not a fair fight.”

Because of this inequity, college players represent a free good to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or a resource so abundant that it does not limit economic activity. For this reason, the number of college football and basketball games in recent years have more than doubled. The players pay the cost in exhaustion and injury, but Division I college football and basketball are multi-million dollar industries for the NCAA.

“In 1984 when March Madness kicked off, CBS broadcasted the games, and they paid the NCAA $14 million to broadcast that tournament. The one that airs now– the combined networks will pay the NCAA $1 billion,” said Professor Sanderson.

An industry that generates millions of dollars is bound to have its scandals, and Sanderson highlighted a few. Notably, he recalled when University of Southern California football player Reggie Bush had his Heisman trophy revoked when it was discovered how much money was being laundered to him and his family. He also cited the time when the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill “ran” 3,100 students, most of them football players, through fake courses in which they received an A to offset their failing grades in core classes. The list of scandals goes on from ignored claims of sexual assault to high schools falsifying transcripts.

The United States is the only country in the world that runs semi-pro college sports teams. While many high school students aspire to be  Division I athletes, it is important that they are aware of the industry’s mentality and learn to strategize their plays on and off the field/court.

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The School Newspaper of 'Iolani School.
‘Iolani’s 2017 Economics Chair Allen Sanderson