Going pro in an age of amateurism

by Kirk Ross

Maybe we should all go pro

When it comes to sports this is that time of year I most dislike. This is when those thin walls that separate college and professional athletics come down and we start seeing dollar figures instead of majors and year in school in the descriptive clauses of individuals who’ve played loyally for our chosen schools.

I don’t begrudge anyone a bit for going pro and totally understand where they’re coming from. I was anxious to get into the professional world myself and left after my junior year for a six-figure salary. Of course, a lot of those figures came after the decimal point.

Given the circumstances, it seems perfectly sane for many of these young men to go pro. Less balanced is the fact that the rest of us haven’t. Under the circumstances, holding on to the ideal that all collegiate sports are an amateur enterprise, while certainly high-minded, is both bizarre and expensive behavior.

The money sports – basketball and football – have seen larger and larger stadiums, more and more advertising and corporate sponsorships and, for the fans, ever increasing ticket prices. The games are migrating in a growing number to cable channels, including some inaccessible without an extra fee to most of us. And the “arms race” – as some like to call it – over coaching salaries spirals further with each dismissal and subsequent quest for new greatness.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are forking over $20-$30 plus to sit in the nosebleed section of a building we’re paying the upkeep for and munch a $3, untaxed hot dog. Before us on the hardwood or the gridiron are young people playing their hearts out for an education and not one thin dime more.

Something’s wrong with this picture: These are our kids, playing at our schools, yet somehow most of the dough flows to the networks, ad agencies and sports apparel companies.

If this were anything else, we’d be demanding a bigger cut. We can start by demanding a better deal.

For starters we can take a harder look at how money flows in and out of athletic programs. One example is the way powerful boosters have managed to get the state to add out-of-state athletes to the list of scholars receiving in-state tuition.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, the Greensboro Democrat who has introduced legislation to eliminate the program, said the loss to the taxpayers is roughly $15 million per year and rising. A breakdown of where the money goes shows an overwhelming amount flows to the biggest state schools – you know, the ones with the new coaches and skyboxes. Harrison said she doesn’t expect the bill to go far, but wanted to do something about it on principle.

“I just wanted to see a little sunshine on a bad provision,” she said.

Recently the Big Ten conference gave up the ghost in a way. In a challenge to the current paradigm, the conference formed its own network. There’s also the scandalizing notion advancing through the ranks of the NCAA that we should actually pay the athletes.

As former UNC President William Friday has pointed out many times, only the top 20 or so schools actually make any money off of their athletic programs, but the arms race and the unsavory doings in the name of the Alma Mater surely affect them all.

Elon poll, Part 2

A couple of notes about the last Elon poll, which came out after deadline last week.

One standout number is the drop in people who say the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for first-degree murder. In 2005, 61 percent of respondents said yes, while this year that number dropped to 43 percent.

The poll also looked at attitudes on public education and showed a rather wide set of opinions about what are the most critical issues facing schools. Almost an even split said the schools are heading in the wrong direction (44 percent) and the right direction (42 percent). Much less consensus on the pressing need of their local schools with quality/teaching (17 percent), overcrowding (10 percent), discipline (9 percent), adequate funding (8 percent), violence and gangs (8 percent) at the top of the list.

Oh, and we’re incredibly unprepared for hurricane season.

Kirk Ross travels the state for and writes about state governance at He can be reached at