Gary Becker on the NCAA

Nobel-prize winning economist Gary Becker has passed away at the age of 83. There were certainly profound grounds on which to be critical of Becker, but relevant to this blog and thanks to Patrick Hruby of Sports on Earth for bringing it to my attention, Becker wrote with great clarity about the NCAA.

One key point:

A large fraction of the Division I players in basketball and football, the two big money sports, are recruited from poor families; many of them are African-Americans from inner cities and rural areas. Every restriction on the size of scholarships that can be given to athletes in these sports usually takes money away from poor athletes and their families, and in effect transfers these resources to richer students in the form of lower tuition and cheaper tickets for games.

I’d add that, insofar as the NCAA argues that those revenues are necessary to pay for other sports, that is contributing to a similar transfer since, for the most part, those non-revenue sports like golf, tennis, gymnastics, wrestling, swimming, soccer and so on tend to be populated by more affluent and predominantly white athletes. There are exceptions, to be sure. But it’s hard to argue with the general picture Becker outlines.




  1. I have just a minor quibble though. As someone who coaches collegiate soccer, I would hesitate to categorize soccer with golf and tennis in terms of race and affluency. I doubt there is a sport which draws players from more diverse backgrounds than soccer.

    Love your blog and check it daily. Keep fighting the good fight.

    1. Cory,

      Thanks for your comment. Fair enough about soccer. I was thinking of the teams at UNC which, while certainly more diverse than tennis and golf are, from what people closer to the programs than I describe as more affluent than football and basketball. But I’ll be careful with that kind of lumping.

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