A League of Fans Special Feature
Joe Nocera is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, been a business writer, and served as a writer and editor for Fortune magazine for 10 years. He frequently writes about the NCAA and college sports issues, including a lengthy piece earlier this year for The New York Times Magazine entitled, “Let’s Start Paying College Athletes.” A former high school basketball player, Nocera tangled with college and pro stars Marvin Barnes and Ernie DiGregorio while growing up in Providence, Rhode Island.
Nocera’s college sports reform plan for football and men’s basketball has five elements: 1) A free-market approach to recruiting that would allow college programs to offer athletes actual contracts just like pro teams do; 2) a salary cap for every team, including a minimum annual salary for every scholarship football and men’s basketball player; 3) Six-year scholarships which could be used to complete a bachelor’s or get a master’s degree; 4) Lifetime health insurance for players; and 5) The creation of an organization to represent both current and former college players.
Nocera was interviewed by Ken Reed, League of Fans’ Sports Policy Director.
Ken Reed: What made you start researching and writing about issues in college sports?
Joe Nocera: In looking at the NCAA it became apparent that they have a bunch of egregious rules when it comes to the treatment of players. The current system basically screws a bunch of kids, a lot of them disadvantaged kids. They have a labor force that does all the work but doesn’t get paid. It’s a plantation system. The NCAA has lost their sense of mission.
This is not really a sports issue. It’s a civil rights issue. It’s a race issue and justice issue. It’s about American values and the right way to treat people you have power over.
KR: Most sports reformers look at the scandals and problems in college sports and see a fairly complex issue. You seem to think the solution is pretty straightforward, correct?
JN: I do. I think the college situation can be fixed fairly easily. The NCAA is a heartless organization. But it’s overseen by the universities who could fix it tomorrow.
First, they have to change the way they think about amateurism. They’re hanging on to this old idea of amateurism for dear life. The Olympics was the same way but they gave up their view of amateurism a long time ago.
Another obvious problem is that universities are ill-equipped to run a $6 billion entertainment business.
But the big issue is that everybody’s trying to deny there’s a marketplace here. They look at big-time college football and basketball like it’s an extracurricular activity like chess club.
Look, if you pay the players, 95% of wrong doing goes away. If you allow players to be paid, the booster stuff goes away. And who cares if an agent pays for Mom to go on a recruiting trip with her son?
KR: If you pay football players and men’s college basketball players aren’t you looking at Title IX issues?
JN: First, title IX is about equality of opportunity, not equality of money. Second, if you walled off football and men’s basketball and classified them as employees of the university I don’t think there would be a Title IX issue. They wouldn’t be part of university life, they’d be part of a giant entertainment complex.
KR: What about the women’s basketball programs that make money?
JN: Women’s basketball makes money on maybe five campuses. If women’s basketball becomes a revenue-generating sport on a larger scale, include them and make them university employees too. We’re a long ways from that.
KR: What’s your take on the universities that say they can’t afford to pay athletes?
JN: I don’t have patience with schools that say they can’t pay players because they don’t have the money. A lot of these schools pay their coach $4 million. If you can’t pay the players then get out of the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision).
Right now, the idea of paying players is a foreign concept in college sports. The NCAA can adapt. Major League Baseball (MLB) was against free agency. They adapted. With MLB, the players had to fight for free agency in order to get more money. College football and basketball players don’t have an organization to fight on their behalf. In the end, the labor force has to stand up for itself. But these are 18-year-old kids looking to make money in the pros, their future’s in front of them.
KR: How do you think this issue plays out?
JN: Reform will probably come from the courts in the form of antitrust legislation against the NCAA. And a players’ organization in some form – driven from outside the sport – will evolve to fight for the players.Print
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Joseph Siprut
11 Apr 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Fred Bowen
20 Feb 2013
Q & A with Legendary Sportswriter Frank Deford
27 Jan 2013
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Brenda VanLengen
28 Dec 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Diana Cutaia
1 Nov 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Patrick Hruby
28 Sep 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Allen Sack
8 Aug 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Donna Lopiano
5 Jun 2012
Q’s & A’s with Jim Thompson
14 May 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Activists: Dave Zirin
18 Apr 2012
Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Activists: William Dowling
27 Mar 2012
Q’s & A’s with Notable Sports Figures: Taylor Branch
9 Mar 2012
Q’s & A’s with Notable Sports Figures – Joe Nocera
27 Feb 2012
Q’s & A’s with Notable Sports Figures – Chris Nowinski
13 Feb 2012
Q’s & A’s with Notable Sports Figures: Joe Ehrmann
3 Feb 2012
Q & A With John Gagliardi
24 Jan 2012
Q & A With Robert Lipsyte
10 Jan 2012
Q & A With Jay Coakley
27 Dec 2011
Q & A With John Gerdy
9 Dec 2011
- Q’s & A’s with Leading Sports Reformers: Joseph Siprut
Special FeaturesFrom League of Fans
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to encourage social & civic responsibility in sports industry & culture. See League of Fans Core Principles
April 6, 2013League of Fans Calls for More Humanistic Coaching Programs. Click here to see the release.
League of Fans Announces 2012 “Sport At Its Best” Awards
December 20, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on Ralph Nader's Call for Budding Sports Reformers
December 7, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on Ralph Nader's Claim that Sports Media Are Dropping the Ball on Social, Cultural, and Economic Issues in Sports
November 22, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on the campaign to Make the NCAA Live Up to Its Stated Purpose
October 26, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on the campaign to create a National Sports Commission
October 11, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on the campaign to Ensure Equal Opportunity in Sports for all Americans
September 21, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on putting the "Youth" back into "Youth Sports"
September 8, 2011 Click here to read the news release and report on the campaign to abolish the BCS and Establish a College Football Playoff
August 25, 2011
Read the news release and report on Mandatory Implementation of King-Devick Concussion Test in High School and Youth Sports
August 11, 2011
Click here to read the report and news release and about the campaign to promote sports and physical education for all students
Read the news release and report on Campaign to Promote Humanistic Coaching Education Programs
July 13, 2011
Read the news release and report on the Push For Community Ownership in Professional Sports
June 24, 2011
Read the news release and report and Sports Manifesto on Re-Launch of League of Fans
March 24, 2011
NCAA's Reaction to League of Fans' Proposal
March 29, 2011
League of Fans' Response to NCAA
March 25, 2011
League of Fans Proposes Eliminating Athletic Scholarships to Help Restore Integrity on College Campuses
League of Fans is a project of the Center for Study of Responsive Law.