Documentary Examines Business Of Big-Time College Sports

While professional teams tend to dominate the New York sports landscape, the business of big-time college sports is bigger than ever across the country. Universities, administrators and coaches have made millions of dollars through ticket sales, donations, TV contracts, licensing and other means.

Where the players fit into this chain – unable to receive payment other than a scholarship – has come under heavy scrutiny, punctuated by a lawsuit headed by former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon regarding use of likenesses of collegiate student-athletes in video games.

SCHOOLED: The Price of College Sports, an original documentary which will air on Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. on the Epix cable channel, looks at the issues surrounding college sports and how the NCAA treats its athletes, in a historical context. Several of the key figures in the making of the film were present at a screening Tuesday at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan, after which they participated in an interactive Q&A session with a few hundred attendees.

The panelists were Taylor Branch, whose 2011 The Atlantic article “The Shame of College Sports” is the basis of the film, NFL Players Association Domonique Foxworth, former University of North Carolina fullback Devon Ramsay, and the film’s producer, Andrew Muscato. Moderated by Time Magazine writer Sean Gregory, the discussion expanded on some of the film’s core features and was particularly enhanced by the presence of Ramsay, whose eligibility case was one of the most controversial in recent NCAA history.

An important premise of Schooled is that if the players are supposed to be “student-athletes” (the derivation of the term is an interesting story in itself, told neatly in the film), subject to the principle of “amateurism,” then the universities (and, by extension, the NCAA) are not holding up their end of the bargain. If the scholarship that athletes receive (which often doesn’t cover all costs of attendance) isn’t providing the education it should – and in many case, requirements of the sport preclude that possibility – then the compensation is not commensurate with the value they provide to the school.

Among the interested audience members on Tuesday were members of the Fairfield University men’s and women’s basketball teams. While football gains more attention in the film, all collegiate athletes are affected, which was not lost on junior center Malcolm Gilbert.

“It gave me more insight and perspective about student-athletes,” he said. “Before I went, I was indifferent about the subject but now I see how it relates to me. The case studies were informative and helped frame everything for me. I was glad I had the opportunity to ask questions and to talk with the panelists one-on-one after the event.”

After the making of the film, EA Sports, which produced the NCAA Football and NCAA Basketball games at the heart of the O’Bannon litigation, and Collegiate Licensing Company, settled the lawsuit, leaving the NCAA as the lone defendant. As Schooled points out, the NCAA has survived all challenges to its system; but this may be a sign of a major change on the horizon.

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