Tom McMillen Applauds Plan for Athletic Spending

On July 3, the Birmingham News quoted former U.S. Representative Tom McMil­len, a former college basketball star and an NBA veteran, in response to the Knight Com­mission recommendations to restore balance between academic and athletic spending among univer­sities.

The News reported the Knight Comimssion findings in Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values, and the Future of College Sports that the increase in major college athletics spending between 2005 and 2008 was four to 11 times greater than spending on academics. In response, one of the Knight Commission’s recommendations was to create an Academic-Athletics Balance Fund that would reallocate portions of the payouts from the NCAA basketball tour­nament and Bowl Championship Series.

“You can’t put a cap on coaches’ salaries,” McMillen said. “But you can say, ‘You can pay your coach $4 million, but it’s going to cost you $8 million in revenue distribution dollars.'”

McMillan compared the Knight Commission’s recommendations to stop run-away spending in college sports to legislation he introduced in Congress in 1991, the “Collegiate Athletics Reform Act.” That legislation would have restored to the NCAA a limited antitrust exemption for football and basketball that was taken away in the landmark 1984 Supreme Court decision that put television rights in the hands of conferences.

“No matter how many recommendations reform-minded presidents make today, they can’t reform themselves,” said McMillan. “At the end of the day, they are all chasing TV dollars because there is no other choice.

The paper noted that under his proposed financial model for college sports, institutions would undoubtedly ask what’s wrong with a free-market model. Why should schools not have the right to invest resources as they see fit, even if it means paying coaches greatly more than their university president? “It’s a very good question,” McMillen said. “If you want to go that direction, then acknowledge this is an enterprise and get taxed and regulated and accept the consequences of paying the players.”

“If we want to be a second-class citizen, let’s focus on our football teams,” he said. “I’m for big money in college sports, and I think you’d have big money if you gave the NCAA the power and stopped this fractured environment. But how the money is used should be the key. It should be promoting things more than just winning and losing.”