Growing up in Indiana, in a relatively small university town in a decent size, but the still small feeling county, college athletics were huge. Whether it meant going to live Valparaiso University NCAA Division I basketball games, or following Big Ten football and basketball, as well as what was happening with college programs across the US, many in my hometown were glued in.
For years I would watch as many college football games on Saturdays as I could, as I did not have to my homework on a Saturday. With Valparaiso University being my parents' employment, they took me to plenty of VU basketball games, so I followed that as well as the rest of the college basketball scene. With basketball being huge in Indiana, people are fervent supporters of Indiana, Purdue, as well as some Notre Dame (although ND is a football school) and Butler.
In high school, I remember hearing about the cheating scandal at the University of North Carolina with their men's basketball and football programs, and then they faced little sanctions compared to what some expected. Then I took an ethics class my freshman year of college where the professor posed the age-old question of whether or not college athletes should be paid (they currently are not). The discussions in there forced me to think critically about whether or not the "non-profit" NCAA has been exploiting student-athletes in the process of making millions at their biggest tournaments and via TV money.
Former Purdue football player Albert Evans, from the same area I grew up in, posted on a Purdue SB Nation blog in 2018 about the brutal life of a student-athlete. NCAA student-athletes, not just at the Division I level, face a brutal schedule and see little return, especially if they are not on a full scholarship, and most outside of D1 football and basketball are not. The academic return they do get may be in a watered down major or less than average since much if not most of their focus is on their athletic schedule.
For the big-time athletes who play for a top-level school's program, they are unable to make money off of their likeness, as in many college towns, football and basketball jerseys are sold with their number, but without their last name. Because of amateurism rules that the NCAA regulates to the nth degree, none of the money that the elite college athletes make for their schools goes to them, which in a country with fair labor and wage laws, seems a bit wrong to me.
I know that most college athletic programs operate in the red, and even in a pay-to-play free market, the non-revenue sports could not afford to give small stipends (which the major junior hockey league system in North America provides). Personally, I wish higher level non-pro athletics would be separated from education completely, so academic institutions can focus on education, while sports people can focus on running their independent sports programs.
I get it, college athletics have great history and tradition in the United States and millions enjoy watching NCAA athletics. Whether it be because of personal ties or local culture, as seen in the South where college football is almost religious, people will continue to watch. Though I've gone to a couple of events to support friends from high school, I personally cannot watch major sports on TV anymore as it feels wrong to me to contribute to a system that isn't completely fair to the ones making the entertainment possible.