Cover image for Unpaid professionals : commercialism and conflict in big-time college sports
Unpaid professionals : commercialism and conflict in big-time college sports
Zimbalist, Andrew S.
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Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 252 pages ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1470 Lexile.
Format :


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GV351 .Z56 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Big-time college sports embodies the ideals of amateurism and provides an important complement to university education. Or so its apologists would have us believe. As Andrew Zimbalist shows in this unprecedented analysis, college sports is really a massively commercialized industry based on activities that are often irrelevant and even harmful to education. Zimbalist combines groundbreaking empirical research and a talent for storytelling to provide a firm, factual basis for the many arguments that currently rage about the goals, history, structure, incentive system, and legal architecture of college sports. He paints a picture of a system in desperate need of reform and presents bold recommendations to chart a more sensible future.

Zimbalist begins by showing that today's problems are nothing new--that schools have been consumed for more than a century by debates about cheating, commercialism, and the erosion of academic standards. He then takes us into the world of the modern student athlete, explaining the incentives that, for example, encourage star athletes to abandon college for the pros, that create such useless courses as "The Theory of Basketball," and that lead students to ignore classes despite the astronomical odds against becoming a professional athlete. Zimbalist discusses the economic and legal aspects of gender equity in college sports. He assesses the economic impact of television and radio contracts and the financial rewards that come from winning major championships. He examines the often harmful effects of corporate sponsorship and shows that, despite such sponsorship, most schools run their athletic programs at a loss. Zimbalist also considers the relevance of antitrust laws to college sports and asks whether student athletes are ultimately exploited by the system.

Zimbalist's provocative recommendations include eliminating freshman eligibility for sports, restricting coaches' access to "sneaker money" from corporations, and ending the hypocrisy about professionalism by allowing teams to employ a quota of non-students as well as to receive funding from the pro leagues. A mixture of lively anecdotes, hard economic data, cogent arguments, and clear analysis, Unpaid Professionals will revitalize debate about a subject close to the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.

Author Notes

Andrew Zimbalist is the Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College. He has published twelve books, including Baseball and Billions and (with Roger Noll) Sports, Jobs and Taxes . He has written widely on comparative economics and has consulted extensively in the sports industry. Most recently, he consulted for the National Basketball Players Association during the 1998-99 lockout. A frequent contributor to aca-demic journals as well as to publications such as The New York Times , The Washington Post , The New Republic , The Wall Street Journal , and USA Today , he was chosen by the Village Voice as the 1998 sports journalist of the year.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

College sports are all about money, but no one has ever followed that money as closely as Smith economics professor Zimbalist does here. His objective, exhaustively researched examination of how cash is generated in college sports and how it is dispersed should open a lot of eyes to some remarkable facts. College sports generate enormous revenue for their universities through paid attendance, television rights, corporate sponsorships, and licensing agreements. The recipients of this largesse range from university presidents to athletic directors to coaches and assistant coaches. Everyone benefits, Zimbalist documents, except the athletes. Particularly interesting are the lofty six-figure salaries of the folks who run the NCAA, the high-minded ruling body of collegiate sports that, until recently, refused to allow scholarship athletes to hold part-time jobs. Zimbalist offers possible reforms aimed at redressing this inequity, but the brunt of his book constitutes a stunning catalog of excess and exploitation. Expect attention beyond what is normally afforded university press economics books. --Wes Lukowsky

Publisher's Weekly Review

Although many of the problems facing college athletics today have been around for decades, the explosion of money and media attention has so raised the stakes that college sports is on the verge of self-destruction, argues Zimbalist (Baseball and Billions), a professor of economics at Smith College. The National Collegiate Athletic Association was formed in 1905 to address the problem of violence in college football. Between 1890 and 1905, Zimbalist reports, 330 students were killed playing the game, and President Theodore Roosevelt was threatening to intervene. But as Zimbalist convincingly argues, the NCAA's record of regulating intercollegiate athletics has been spotty at best. In his view, the NCAA is nothing more than a cartel geared toward protecting the association's own interests, as well as that of its largest members. By only tinkering with its well-established system, he charges, the NCAA has never effectively dealt with such longstanding problems as low graduation rates, point shaving, illegal payments to athletes (by alumni, agents and others) and gender inequality (although Zimbalist does allow that the NCAA has grudgingly made some progress enforcing Title IX, the 1972 law that mandates that collegiate women have the same access to sports as men). Zimbalist, who knows his way around the locker room and a balance sheet, provides a compelling case for the need to reform college athletics. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who has written extensively on the business side of sports, assays whether big-time sports are worth the wealth of problems they create for colleges and universities. College sports frequently conflict with the educational mission of academic institutions, foster gender inequality, and lead to questionable compromises with the demands of advertisers and the media. Furthermore, the assigned overseeing body, the NCAA, is generally seen as corrupt and mismanaged. Zimbalist concludes with a ten-point reform program, including such steps as gathering financial support from professional leagues, having a quota of paid nonmatriculated athletes, cutting football scholarships nearly in half, shortening seasons, and eliminating freshman eligibility. A thoughtful, thought-provoking book; recommended for all libraries.ÄJohn M. Maxymuk, Rutgers Univ. Lib., Camden, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

With Unpaid Professionals, sports economist Zimbalist (Smith College) adds significantly to a growing literature from researchers and practitioners on big-time college athletics. Economists Fleisher, Goff and Tollison tackled some of the issues in The National Collegiate Athletic Association (1992). Murray Sperber contributed College Sports, Inc. (1990) and Onward to Victory (1998); John Thelin produced Games Colleges Play (CH, Jan'95); and former Big Ten commissioner Walter Byers covered similar themes in Unsportsmanlike Conduct (CH, Apr'96). Zimbalist brings the economist's eye for theory and empirical research to now-familiar topics. The volume traces the histories of intercollegiate sports and its umbrella organization (the NCAA); covers the student-athlete, including academic standards, compensation, violations, and values; discusses various commercial aspects of today's games, such as media contracts, licensing, and the role of government; and tries to untangle the revenues and costs, the direct and indirect benefits, in athletic budgets. Some of Zimbalist's arguments on these points, as well as his strong appeal for gender equity for players and coaches and his ten recommendations for reform, will make some fellow economists (including this reviewer) wince, but the bases for further discussion and counterpoints are now explicit. Far from perfect, but for general readers and researchers, an excellent place to begin. A. R. Sanderson; University of Chicago