KOKOMO – It will probably come as a surprise to those readers who know me that at one point in my life I was an NCAA scholarship athlete. Many pizzas and beers later, I know I don’t resemble my once svelte swimmer’s physique. But, I digress. 
 
My college degree was paid for by a full athletic scholarship. For that fact, I will forever be grateful to the good people at Ball State University. As the seventh child in a financially struggling family, my best shot at getting a college degree was to have an athletic scholarship. Of course, an academic scholarship could have been a possibility but something called advanced algebra always came between me and the academic-based money. This fact left me all wet, both literally and figuratively.
 
College athletics was much, much different from my high school athletics. College sports are incredibly competitive, even in a low-exposure sport such as swimming. My college coaches required lengthy morning and evening practices before, during and after the official season. In addition, my coaches required that significant time be spent in the weight room. While I had dreamed of spending the off-season lifting beers and sorority girls with equal aplomb, I found myself sweating away with the Neanderthals from the football team.
 
The bottom line is that based on money alone, with no value given to the enjoyment of going face down in chlorinated water for 10,000 yards at 5:30 a.m., my hourly rate of compensation for all of the time that I put in would have been about one-half of the minimum wage. Working at McDonalds would have put more money in my pocket. The bleachers at John O. Lewellen Natatorium weren’t exactly filled during our swim meets. No admission was charged and yet a bunch of university money was spent on meals, travel and coaches. Let’s just say that no swimmer was under any illusion as to their bargaining power when it came to compensation. We had no bargaining power. We were a financial drag and we knew it.
 
Things are just a little different for athletes playing major college basketball and football. They like to call them the “revenue” sports.  College basketball and football are big money propositions and deserve a long, hard look.
 
The recent big money influence peddling, shoe racketeering, and recruiting irregularities at the University of Louisville and others, soon to be widely and embarrassingly known, has set me to thinking about whether or not the athletes are being treated fairly.
 
Twenty-five years ago as you traveled to Florida on spring break, traffic would crawl through Louisville and you had time to look around. You could take a pretty good look at the University of Louisville as you drove by.  At that time, there really wasn’t much to see. There weren’t the monolithic stadiums and sports complexes along the interstate that you see today. Today’s women’s field hockey field is nicer than the men’s football field of 25 years ago.
 
You would have to be somewhat naïve to believe that the explosive growth of big university buildings and athletic facilities weren’t somehow tied to the vast improvement in the athletic performance of the men’s basketball and football programs. Big results bring big money and then big buildings. Or, is it big money brings big results and then big buildings? I’m not sure about the answer to this chicken-and-the-egg question, but I suspect moolah was the major factor.
 
While there has always been some degree of rule-breaking by some basketball and football programs, the magnitude of the current financial scandals affecting NCAA sports is staggering. The culprit for this latest binge in cheating has not been the wealthy alumnus who gives the star running back some cash so he can take his girl out for a milkshake after the game. We are talking mega scandals with mega cash so the trail leads to big business.  It is the athletic shoe and apparel companies who are to blame for the massive flood of cash infecting college sports. Generally, if you want to find the source of a problem in any venue of life, just follow the money. There is no doubt that some folks are getting very fat financially from college sports. Let’s take a look at our leading suspects.
 
First, and perhaps foremost, are the universities themselves. Perhaps not all universities, but the universities who pump out future professional athletes and perennially find themselves competing for national titles are the ones receiving the biggest bucks. Big shoe contracts, apparel contracts and television-rights money flows to elite athletic universities like manna from heaven.
 
Athletic conferences themselves are not far behind in the money game.  Television rights and the conference cut of post-season play keeps the accountants at the conference offices busy.
 
Football and basketball head coaches have reaped a windfall of cash and most make more money from endorsements, shoe and apparel deals, sports camps and television programs than they make from their paltry million-dollar-plus university salaries.
 
Professional agents are another moneyed class who have prospered from the massive cash flowing through college athletics. 
 
Professional sports leagues such as the NFL and the NBA prosper mightily from the millions saved by not having to run minor league programs. Heck, the NCAA is running their minor leagues for them. What a deal!
 
A few ultra-talented athletes grab the golden ticket and find their path to untold riches via college sports. The process is much like a grunion run: So many start the process on the front end of the quest and so few finally get spit out on the end with their tickets punched by a professional sports team.
 
So here is how it typically works on a nice autumn day: Mom and dad load up the car and head for college town with high-priced football tickets in hand, wearing licensed school apparel in their school’s colors. They park in an overpriced parking lot. They eat overpriced hot dogs and burgers in the stadium and wait for their team to spill out on the field. The team runs out on the beautiful and expensive artificial field in the monstrous stadium with a mega Jumbo Tron in the end zone. They are wearing the latest licensed apparel and shoes. The university elite wine and dine wealthy donors in the massive press box in the quest for those endowment dollars. Television pays big money for broadcast rights and doesn’t waste a single opportunity for advertising dollars. It’s a big money carnival and everyone seems to prosper.
 
What makes this entire autumn orgy of pigskin paradise possible are the kids playing inside the lines. Are they being treated fairly? Does a football or basketball scholarship truly fairly compensate a young player for the time, energy and risk of playing college athletics? I don’t think it does. Without the athletes providing the entertainment, the stands are vacant and the television is showing “I Love Lucy” reruns.
 
Everyone seems to be enjoying the fruits of college capitalism except the supporting cast of college athletes who provide the opportunity for the fortunate few to elevate themselves to the professional level. For every Saquon Barkley inking a massive contract, there are a bunch of kids who’ve been allowed to spend their college years lifting weights and taking underwater basket weaving classes – kids who either don’t graduate or have no marketable skills upon graduation. These kids are also the ones who receive debilitating injuries and lifetimes of arthritic pain. For all of the mega money being produced by the college sports industry, a shockingly miniscule amount actually accrues to the benefit of the performers.
 
In an effort to reform big-time college sports and provide some equitable treatment for its athletes, I propose the following:
 
Require a financial contribution from the NFL and the NBA to be distributed to all colleges for use in funding all sports scholarships. Allow outstanding athletes to sign professional management contracts. Allow paid athletic endorsements. Require all television contracts, sponsorships, endorsement contracts, ticket proceeds and monetary subsidies to allocate 10% of the proceeds to a trust fund to be paid out to football and basketball athletes at stated ages in the future. Require complete publicly available transparency on the flow of every penny into college sports.

This may not cure all the ills of big-time college sports, but it will provide for a little equity for those who make it all possible. 

Dunn is the former chairman of the Howard County Republican Party.