Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

The Sham that Is Big-Time College Sports

What exactly does a bowl scout scout? Who knows. They are just another sign of the sham that is big-time college sports. Another sign is the NCAA's tax-exempt status. How can an entity with a budget of more than $500 million be tax exempt?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Baseball has its scouts. So does football. Commentator Frank Deford says that the very existence of college football post-season scouts says a lot about big time college athletics.

FRANK DEFORD: Every autumn I read in the newspapers that at such-and-such a college football game bowl scouts were in attendance. This has gone on since time immemorial. Bowl scouts show up and watch games. What a great job!

But what do bowl scouts do, I mean besides watching the game. Do bowl scouts arrive incognito or do they wear buttons that say, hi, I'm a bowl scout? How do you get to be a bowl scout? And most of all, what exactly does a bowl scout scout?

You see, at the end of the season if you, say, are the Kumquat Bowl, you simply take the best two teams left over from the bowls ahead of you. What does a Kumquat Bowl scout say to his superiors? Hey, don't take State U with an eight and three record because back in October I scouted Cupcake A & M, and even though it has a one in ten record, I really like that team.

You don't need bowl scouts to read the records of teams in the newspaper. But then bowl scouts are perfectly symbolic of the whole sham that is big time college athletics.

So give a brave cheer for Representative Bill Thomas, Republican chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Last month he dared question why the NCAA, with a budget of $563 million, is legally considered a non-profit entity and therefore tax-exempt on the rather strange reasoning that big time college athletics have something to do with higher education.

Actually, to me, Representative Thomas' barbed inquiry was the first real evidence I had that the Republicans knew they were going to lose the House. Would any politician dare take on the college football and basketball constituency if he knew he was staying in power? And now will the Democrats be so courageous as to take up Mr. Thomas' cudgel and try to beat college athletics out of the God-given tax exemptions it has always clasped so to its sweaty bosom? Somehow I don't think so. What politician wants to attack fun and games?

But perhaps this will at least lead to an admission that all college sports should not be under the same umbrella. It's time to acknowledge reality and separate out football, and men's basketball as well. It's nonsense to pretend that some coach making $2 million a year to run a football program for a few dozen elite subsidized players funded by tax-exempt booster club contributions has anything at all to do with education. It's coo-coo to give a football team the same sort of tax subsidy that charities and churches are allowed.

Certainly, athletic activity can be part of the educational experience. It's healthy for college students to play sports - intercollegiate or intramural -to exercise, to compete. But let's be honest with ourselves and distinguish between what is sport and what is amusement. Divide the two up.

Sure, keep the NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, but create an NCEA, the National Collegiate Entertainment Association. Among other things, the NCEA could pay the salaries of all those valued bowl scouts and give them the health benefits and pensions that they so richly deserve.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford