Craig Garthwaite, Northwestern University - College football and basketball players are mostly poor but their beneficiaries are not

Craig Garthwaite, Northwestern University
College football and basketball players are mostly poor but their beneficiaries are not


One way to measure value is through time and trouble. The length, breadth and depth of effort we put into something is proof of how much we value it.

Consider the time and trouble that goes into booking a road game for a college basketball team. “The preferred method of pandemic travel would be to take a charter flight,” John Marshall of the Associated Press reported recently. But most schools can’t afford that, so they fly commercial, which still, Marshall said, leaves “plenty to worry about: testing protocols at [the airport]; space to spread out in the terminal; … close contacts in the airport, from TSA personnel and gate agents to other passengers.”

Then from the airport, or cheaper than the flight, there’s the bus.

Marshall wrote: “Coaches setting up bus travel have to ask about the filtration system, testing protocols for employees and the interior layout to allow players and coaches to spread out. “Where’s your bus driver been the last few weeks on the road? Who have they been driving? Have they been tested recently?”

On the time and trouble market, not to mention the medical risk involved, that basketball game must be pretty valuable. Could that be because of the value of the revenue from the game, from media contracts even when COVID-19 limits or banishes ticket-buying customers?

Those revenues, for some universities in the top Power Five conferences for football and men’s basketball, run into the millions of dollars a year. For them, the 21st Century has been a bonanza. By them, we mean the schools themselves, the coaches of football and basketball, the people who build their increasingly lavish athletic stadia and facilities, and to a lesser degree, the coaches and athletes involved in the so-called “low-revenue” or money-losing sports. They all benefit from the revenues generated by a small cohort of male athletes who play football and basketball.

But here’s the thing – the thing our guest today Craig Garthwaite of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University pointed out in a paper recently published by the Brookings Institution – the revenue-makers are disproportionately athletes of color from communities of poverty, while the reapers of benefits are mostly white and mostly pretty well off. Sounds like injustice.


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