Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

Photo of Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

Denial: Paying College Athletes & Paying for the Interstate Highways

I have been traveling extensively the last few weeks and have not had the time to do a post. During that time two things in the headlines have hit me that exemplify larger issues that seem to underlie so much of what troubles the world today.   The first issue is the pervasive combination of double-standards, money, and media that is seen in major college sports in the U.S.  The second issue is that the Federal Highway Trust Fund is almost out of money while our roads and bridges continue to decay.   I see these two seemingly different issues as linked by a pervasive culture of denial by people who should know better.


College Sports

This issue has come to a head recently with the so-called Ed O’Bannon lawsuit and also the recent ruling that football players at Northwestern University are in fact employees and can unionize.  The O’Bannon case is about the NCAA, the governing body that oversees most college sports in the U.S., profiting from the use of player images in video games while the athletes are essentially forbidden from profiting from the same images.   There are all sorts of other restrictions about what athletes can and mostly can’t do that can be summarized as the NCAA holding the so-called student athletes to 19th century standards of amateurism. The rub comes mostly in men’s football and basketball which generate literally billions of dollars of economic activity per year and financial bonanzas for coaches.


You can slice the issues related to college sports many ways:

  • What happens in non-revenue sports and at the schools with less emphasis on sports is different than what happens in so-called revenue sports which are mostly Division 1 men’s football and basketball.   The vast majority of athletes participating in college sports compete in obscurity and enjoy the competition and personal development that comes from playing at a high but anonymous level.  So, a whole lot about college sports does not need to be fixed.
  • Why should institutions of higher learning be de facto developmental leagues for professional football and basketball?
  • If coaches can jump from school to school, why can’t players?
  • If education is the primary purpose of a scholarship for a “student-athlete”, why are they given on a year to year basis instead of for four years?  Why do practice time and other activities look and feel like a full time job?
  • If schools can sign marketing deals with shoe companies, why can’t the players endorse products?
  • If the players in the big money men’s sports are paid, what does that mean for gender equality, and how are all out bidding wars for high school talent prevented?   The professional leagues have mechanisms in place to keep the talent acquistion field level.  Do we want a salary cap for college football?


Questions and observations like these are endless and there are many defenders of the current system that seem mostly united by their economic interest in the status quo.  I just hope that whatever emerges next in big time college sports reflect the economic and media realities that are out there.  The players are not stupid and it is impossible to believe that University Presidents don’t understand the questions and see the double standards I have outlined above. Is it too much to ask for an end to the denial and a little honesty and transparency from them?


The Interstates

The U.S. Interstate Highway System is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) civil engineering, economic development, and infrastructure projects in the history of humanity.  It is also a great example of how the States and Federal government can cooperate to do visionary things.  Many elements of the system were built in the 50s and 60s and need major repairs and upgrades.


The Interstates are funded by a trust fund that relies on revenue from gas taxes and it is projected to run out of money next year.  The gas tax has not been raised since the early 1990s, and in general tolls are not allowed as a primary means to fund the Interstate system.  Also, as people move to hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles and gas mileage rises in traditional cars, perhaps something more than a simple pay at the pump gas tax is needed.  From what I can tell no one denies that the trust fund is almost out of money and no one denies that something needs to happen such as either increasing the gas tax or permitting widespread use of tolls.   The issue here seems to be about denying that political compromise and deal making is actually a good thing.  The inability of our elected officials to address, in a timely fashion, a problem that has minimal liberal/conservative ideological baggage is not a good sign.  I hesitate to imagine what will happen when the trust funds supporting more politically charged programs like Medicare and Social Security run out of money in the 2020s and 2030s.


No Hiding?

The boxing champion Joe Louis said of his smaller and faster rival Billy Conn that “he can run but he can’t hide.”  It seems to me that when it comes to fixing the double standards in big money, big media college sports and fixing the Interstates those responsible can “deny but they can’t hide.”


Tags: ,

One Response to “Denial: Paying College Athletes & Paying for the Interstate Highways”

  1. April 11th, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Doug Cassinari says:

    Dr. Joyner:

    Bravo. Keep it coming.

    My best,


Leave a Reply