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Media Complicity in “College” Sports

Anyone with even a passing interest in the current state of college athletics in this country should go out of their way to seek out the entire 2+ hour NBC Sports Network broadcast of “Costas Tonight” last (4/4/2012) night, which was a town hall-style cornucopia of debate about the dysfunction and hypocrisy of today’s system.  (NBC Sports makes it particularly difficult to find all of the video, but a good starting point with some key highlights can be found here; or you can point your favorite DVR to this rebroadcast schedule).

Bob Costas does a Herculean job of trying to corral the myriad of issues facing the unwieldy college sports labyrinth that the NCAA, the US television industry, brand marketers, and America’s institutions of higher education have unwittingly conspired to create.  Issues like the unintended consequences of Title IX, paying college athletes in revenue-generating sports, hypocritical rules and compromised academic missions, the lunacy of 35 football bowl games, four post-season hoops tournaments and comically gerrymandered athletic conferences, and many more.  Excellent stuff, all of it - and Costas himself says on a number of occasions during the broadcast there simply isn’t enough time to go into all of the many concentric and tangential issues.

One of those issues barely discussed (and one that should be the topic of a “part two” of this discussion) is the pronounced role of ad-supported media - television, of course, in particular - in fueling this beast of a situation.  Most of the major media conglomerates and professional sports league recognize the increasing value of live, linear sports rights in an increasingly time-shifted, device-independent, on-demand media landscape - and the sprawl of the two major revenue-producing engines of Division 1-A football and men’s basketball seemingly has no bounds.

But there is plenty of untilled television/media soil left in college athletics, and don’t think that the NCAA, its crazy patchwork of conferences (12 teams in the Big Ten and ten teams in the Big 12 - right), and its many media suitors aren’t already thinking of ways to wring even more money from the heretofore “lesser” sports, divisions and feeder systems.  And as long as Brian Bedol is still alive, there will always be room for more college media revenue opportunity.

The big bang of newer forms of mobile, social, digital, audio, and video media consumption will only increase the already-big business of college athletics to even grander heights of commercialism and delusion

The media industry and the guardians of the American higher education system have to look each other in the eye and honestly ask whether this inexorable path is prudent, sustainable and desired - before it inevitably collapses upon itself.

(photos: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images via;