What if NCAA Sports Didn’t Exist? – Downside Up – Podcast on CNN Audio

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College sports are a multi-billion dollar industry. Every year, teams sign TV deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Coaches at top programs command seven figure salaries, and they sit at the heart of American culture.

Clip from March Madness


We’re ready to run it back for more March Madness. And the whole dance is right here. Let the madness began.

No one wants to miss out on the Cinderella story of a 15 seed cruising their way into the Sweet 16. Everybody wants the bragging rights or the cash they’ll get for winning their office pool. In some parts of the country, like the South and the Midwest, you might even lose friends if you choose to schedule your wedding on a college football Saturday. Over in Europe were the other kind of football is king top tier athletes usually go directly into the pros. In the United States, however, most athletes, at least right now, will play at the college level for at least a season or two. Controversially, they do a lot of that work unpaid, and a lot of those unpaid athletes are people of color. Some argue the college game is a rite of passage, and it’s undeniably a big part of our sports system for fans and athletes alike. And what is the glue at the center of this whole system? Who is setting the rules and standards for the hundreds of thousands of athletes who play at the college level in America every year? The National Collegiate Athletic Association, better known as the NCAA. So what if the NCAA didn’t exist?

I’m Chris Cillizza and you’re listening to Downside Up, a CNN podcast that searches for answers to unexpected “What If” questions. This week, we’re examining how American sports and American athletes might look extremely different if the NCAA just didn’t exist. So join us as we turn our sports world downside up. Even as a longtime college sports fan myself, Hoya Saxa, baby. Like many people, I’m often confused by the question: What exactly does the NCAA do?

It’s a collection or a group of colleges and universities that have come together for the purpose of organizing their intercollegiate athletic programs. They set common rules and standards.

That’s Tim Nevius. He’s had a lot of interaction with the NCAA over the years. First, he played college baseball at Dayton. Then he went to law school to become an investigator on behalf of the NCAA. Later, he’d leave the league to become an attorney and advocate for college athletes, often challenging the very institution he once worked for and defended. They also organized the national championship in most sports, with the notable exception of high level college football. Seems pretty simple, right? College sports have been around since the 1850s, when Harvard and Yale first competed against each other in rowing. Yes, rowing. Sports were baked into the American ideals of higher education from very early on.

You know, inter-college sports in the United States is intended to be based on the Greek ideals of mind, body and spirit, that if you incorporate athletics into the education experience of students, that it’s going to enhance their ability to develop as young people.

In the early 1900s, team sports like football were really starting to spread, and the participating colleges and universities got together to create the rulemaking governing body that would become the NCAA. Today, there are more than 1100 schools included in the NCAA. We could go down a few more complicated rabbit holes because those schools are then subdivided into divisions and conferences. The biggest conferences are names you probably have heard of, like the ACC, the SCC and the Big Ten. But in a nutshell, the NCAA oversees everything from the Bryn Mawr badminton team to the Ohio State University football team. And there’s a wide gulf between sports like rowing and high revenue generating sports, like the NCAA basketball tournament.

At the highest levels of football and men’s basketball in particular, their experience is so much more similar to that of a professional athlete than it is of a fellow college athlete in a lower division, a different conference, or a different sport. And most people can recognize that in the fact that the collegiate stadiums pack more fans in than the pro stadiums, they find baffling, especially when you let them know. None of these players are paid for their participation in this game that you’re watching.

In 1939, the first college football game was broadcast on TV. In fact, it was the first sporting event of any type to be broadcast live. The first NFL game would be broadcast later that same year. And as TV became a more and more popular medium, TV networks were willing to pay huge amounts to air marquee football and basketball games. That created an imbalance in the NCAA’s mission, an organization designed to protect players in competition morphed over time into a revenue generating behemoth.

We often lose track of the fact that what we’re talking about is at least at the highest levels, a multibillion dollar entertainment industry that is embedded in our institutions of higher education. Those institutions exist for the purpose of educating, promoting, developing and protecting young people. But when it comes to the highest level of college sports, the commercial incentives get in the way of those missions very frequently.

As more and more money was created by college sports, it became clear that of all the rules the NCAA was built to enforce, the most important was regulating who could make money off athletics and who could not.

I was a college sports investigator. The charge was to try to set a level playing field by investigating violations of NCAA rules, which largely relate to not paying the players. Most commonly, the larger, more prominent types of violations that we hear about are those that violate these principles of so-called, quote unquote, amateurism. The violations usually were payments to the players, either while they were high school athletes being recruited to a particular college, or while they’re in college and receiving what are known as extra benefits, things beyond what they’re allowed to receive.

So what is it like for athletes to navigate all of these NCAA rules? Brittany Collens is a professional tennis player who played college tennis at the University of Massachusetts, even as a teenager, she was worried about potential NCAA violations.

Brittany Collens


It is difficult to understand the entire length of the rulebook. So the only things that I really knew was that you had to be like a junior at a certain day where you could really start communicating with coaches. I believe I went to my first recruiting tournament to have coaches come and watch you, and I think I was underage at that point. I remember coaches kind of talking out loud, like me or my dad, not essentially to my dad or to me, but just talking kind of loudly. And I was like, Dad, just be careful. Like, I don’t want to get in trouble or anything. I don’t know if it’s a setup or it turned out to be like they really just were interested in me. But I learned, I guess even then that the rules are really strict and that people would kind of skirt around as best as they could work with the system.

The NCAA had evolved into a system where coaches and recruiters tried to bend or sometimes flat out break the rules. After all, their jobs and salaries are on the line. Caught in the middle are athletes just trying to find a path to college or a path to the pros. And in Brittany’s case, it wasn’t until after she graduated from school that she learned she had somehow become the subject of an NCAA investigation.

Brittany Collens


To this day, I’m not sure I can explain to you why, but I’ll try my best. I went pro after school. I think it was like three years later, I was just coming home from practice and my coach had sent me a text being like, Oh no, UMass is in big trouble with the NCAA. That’s not something that you would expect.

When you think about NCAA rule violations. You may not think about a college tennis team in Massachusetts. Most of the headlines involve high profile college athletes like Reggie Bush, a star football player at the University of Southern California who later had his Heisman Trophy and other honors stripped away after an investigation revealed he’d received improper benefits as a player. So when Brittany heard that UMass was in trouble, she never expected it to involve her.

Brittany Collens


That’s how I discovered that basically all of my time at UMass that we would be vacating those wins. And I had no idea there was so much weird language in there, telecom fee. And I was like, What do you mean vacating all of our seasons? And I remember just already being angry, not even understanding what was going on and seeing the headline. I think it was like $9100 and me being like that, I take like almost ten grand for my school and I didn’t know?

You may be wondering how students could receive nearly $10,000 worth of benefits from their school and not even realize it. Well, in Brittany’s case, the benefit she received turned out to be money set aside for a landline.

Brittany Collens


I later learned that while we weren’t named in the article, it was pretty obvious that my best friend and I had moved off campus and it was like the smallest clerical admin error possible. Like they literally just forgot to check a box that we moved off campus and therefore we were not entitled to a dorm landline phone that’s equivalent to $252 a year. So absolutely crazy. So, you know, common sense, me being like, all right, well, why don’t we just give the money back?

It turned out that a clerical error had resulted in Brittnay and a teammate getting a combined total of $500 worth of what the NCAA called incremental benefits. UMass had self-reported the error, and then the NCAA investigated and found that other benefits had been given to the men’s basketball team. Brittnay herself was never contacted, but as a result, the NCAA vacated all of the wins of Brittany and her teammates over a landline phone jack.

Brittany Collens


Why don’t we just do something to, like, fix the issue? But no, it’s “you had an advantage for a year and a half afterwards. Therefore, your title, your championship win, wouldn’t count.” That’s when I’m like, there’s no reason here. There’s no logic.

The UMass women’s tennis team forfeited their conference title over a clerical error that no one on their team even knew about. That’s what happens when a league builds itself around a flawed idea of student athletes. Any form of incremental benefit can become a target for investigation, even if it hurts students in the process. It was investigations like these that caused Tim Nevius to leave the NCAA enforcement office and become an advocate instead for college athletes.

Although the majority of the high level violations we hear about relate to paying the players in some fashion or another, the sort of ticky tack or smaller violations that we hear about in which it looks like the NCAA is being very petty in enforcing rules related to a phone jack in the dorm room or an extra sandwich or things of that nature, they all relate to the same concept, which is that if we allow the players to be paid any more than the rules permit beyond their scholarship, that we’re compromising the concept of amateurism and therefore it’s a slippery slope thereafter. And that extra sandwich and that phone jack and that new pair of shoes or whatever it is now all of a sudden makes them a professional and therefore deteriorates the nature of college sports.

Of all the rules in college sports, the most controversial may be this idea of amateurism, especially because so many college athletes are people of color. Historically, college athletes cannot be paid despite being expected to work the same hours one would expect from a professional athlete.

Brittany Collens


I remember as a mid-major division one. Our days were filled like from morning to evening with tennis and activities having to do with tennis and fitness and lifting and all these kinds of things and meetings. And I remember being in math class. I remember missing so much of that class that what would happen is I’d like show up, realize we had a test that day, fake, sick, but then realize I really did feel sick because I forgot there was a test and we’re like going to get a doctor’s note so that I could actually retake the test at a later day, spend the day studying, and then it’s just like this constant, like vicious cycle of like, how do you get more time? How do you be the college athlete and be the student at the same time?

One argument you hear against paying college athletes is that many are already receiving a college scholarship. But realistically, the demands on elite athletes are so tough that few are able to focus on their studies.

I think almost regardless of sport, the time demands placed on college athletes is extraordinary and the expectations are that you put sports first and education second. That’s true, especially at the highest levels where the most money is generated and the demands are extraordinary with respect to your performance and maintaining your, your position on the team so you can maintain your scholarship, etc.. But the same is true even in sports, like baseball or tennis or soccer. And that’s because there’s still money to be made, at least by the coaches who are hired to win games. This whole cycle is rooted in the idea of a student athlete which was created by the NCAA in the middle of the 20th century.

Well, first, let me start out by saying student athlete doesn’t mean anything. It’s a made up term that the NCAA only came up with because they didn’t want to pay out worker’s compensation claims.

That’s Jay Bilas. He played college basketball at Duke University and later played professionally. Today, he’s a college basketball analyst for ESPN. Coming out of high school, he was one of the top prospects in the country. But because of this NCAA creation of the student athlete, he could not be paid for his talent.

It was the brainchild of a man named Walter Byers, who is the executive director and sort of the benevolent dictator of the NCAA for years and years. And he ruled dancing with an iron fist out of Kansas City. So he came up with that term so they wouldn’t have to pay workers comp to athletes. It’s a term that’s not used with regard to any other endeavor in university life. They don’t say student musician or student scientist or student writer. It’s only student athlete. So it’s a nonsensical term that was used to keep the thumb on the scale to keep athletes from getting any money. That’s really all at once and all that has remained over the years.

Think about that for a second. A student on a band scholarship can play professional gigs at local bars or sell their music on Spotify. Art students can sell their work or take commissions. But student athletes have been barred from accepting any sort of payment for most of NCAA history. The league has argued that paying players would somehow taint the system, but Bilas doesn’t buy that.

I played professional basketball after college. It didn’t affect my love for the game. The amount of work I put in, it didn’t affect my relationship with my teammates. I never understood all the restrictions that were on me as an athlete. None of them made any sense. You know, they were selling us for every penny they could get. And yet if we took a sandwich somewhere, we were considered criminals. And you couldn’t have a normal life living under those rules. It got as ridiculous as it’s raining out, we finish practice and we have to get over to a training meal on the other side of campus. And the coaches couldn’t give us a ride. You know, it was that silly, and it never made any sense to me. The moment that our season ended my senior year, we’d lost in the NCAA championship game to Louisville, and the next day we were playing in a barnstorming game in eastern North Carolina. We all made five or 600 bucks cash, and Johnny Dawkins and I signed a contract a few days later to do commercials for a budding cellular company. And we’re like, We had this ability to do this our whole four years, but we weren’t allowed to.

And that’s the dirty little secret of college sports. Coaches, alumni, administrators, players and various types of hangers on always found ways to work around and violate the rules. They had a huge incentive to break those rules, money. Since that first college football game had aired, the NCAA had controlled who could and could not be on TV. The league restricted how many games would be televised each week and how often college teams could appear in those games. And in 1984, Walter Byers and the NCAA lost a Supreme Court case that led to an even bigger flood of money flowing into college sports.

Walter Byers, the benevolent dictator in the NCAA’s infinite wisdom back then, they decided that they were going to tell the universities how often they could be on television because they wanted to protect gate receipts. So that that was the more television exposure, the less people would want to actually go to games. They would just sit in their living room, watch the games and gate receipts would go down. They didn’t fathom how much money was in media rights. And so all of a sudden, after 1984 the conferences, it took them a couple years to figure it out, but they figured it out. The conferences could go out and market their own media rights and sell their own media rights.

Until that Supreme Court ruling, the NCAA had negotiated directly with the networks. Had the NCAA not existed and controlled TV rights, then more games may have been televised sooner. But with that 1984 ruling, the Supreme Court opened up a path for conferences like the SCC and the Big Ten to negotiate with TV networks directly.

Now, all of a sudden, you had gigantic meteorites deals being done by the conferences that were outside of the NCAA’s bank account and coaching salaries went through the roof. Facilities are being built. Now, all of a sudden, athletic departments are flush with cash and they’re spending it without regard to the athlete. Now, the athlete would benefit tangentially from it because they have nicer facilities and all that stuff which they use to attract players in recruiting.

And for nearly four decades, this was the way the system worked. NCAA executives, coaches, university administrators and just about everyone else got rich off of a system that involved unpaid, predominantly black and brown athletes. The system got so glaringly bad that in 2021 there was another Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA, and this one was unanimous. You know how hard it is to get the nine justices to all agree on something these days? Yeah, the court basically said that college athletes had the right to make money off of their own name, image and likeness, opening up the door for sponsorship deals. So now when a star quarterback at the University of Alabama wins a Heisman Trophy, he can show up in a Dr. Pepper commercial.

Clip from Dr. Pepper Commercial


Hey, go State. You replaced me with star quarterback Bryce Young? He could never replace you. Here’s your Dr. Pepper, mom. Mom?

Suddenly, college athletes could make cash from appearing in TV commercials or by selling their autographs. Superstar college athletes can make millions of dollars in sponsorships without the NCAA’s student athlete rules a system for college athletes to make money may have developed a whole lot sooner. But Tim Nevius believes that players should also be compensated for the value that they bring to their schools.

What I’d like to see is more consideration given to the fact that the system in the set of rules is inequitable to begin with. In any other industry these restrictions would be illegal, and you could earn money on the basis of the value that you bring to your organization, your company, your entity, your, your school in this case, there’s effectively two buckets here with name, image and likeness, third party brand endorsement deals, and another one related to the relationship between the school and the players, whether the schools can pay the players for their participation in athletics. So in changing the rules to allow for name, image and likeness, you’ve given back the athletes a right that all of us all already enjoy and is protected under state law. But you’re still not addressing the relationship from an economic standpoint between the schools and the players in which the schools may want to and have a lot of incentive to pay the players to recruit them, just like Microsoft and Apple and Google might recruit software engineers to their companies.

The NCAA started out as a group of colleges coming together to decide on rules that would govern college sports. But as TV deals, merchandise sales and ticket sales have turned college sports into a moneymaking endeavor, the NCAA evolved into an organization that helped steer where that money went. But one question continues to gnaw at me is this: Can the same organization really oversee a multibillion dollar entertainment empire while also regulating sports like field hockey or water polo? For some students, sports are a path to attending college or to add an extra curricular activity to their studies. For others, college sports are a stepping stone to professional athletics. Can the NCAA effectively run both? After the break we’ll discuss what sports could look like if the NCAA just didn’t exist.

Welcome back to Downside Up, I’m Chris Cillizza. Today, I’m trying to understand what sports in America might look like without the NCAA. For most of the last century, the NCAA has controlled the flow of money in sports. They’ve determined what games would be shown on TV and who got paid and how much they got paid. But two recent Supreme Court decisions changed all that. Now, teams in major conferences like the SCC and ACC can negotiate with the networks for broadcast and streaming rights, and athletes can make money through endorsement deals. ESPN broadcaster Jay Bilas believes all of these factors are reducing the overall influence of the NCAA in sports.

The relevancy and power of the NCAA is diminished right now, and it’s going to be further diminished in the future. And what I would point to, Chris, is, you know, when you and I were both younger, the AAU, the American Athletic Association, was the most powerful amateur sports association on the planet. They used to choose the Olympic team and no longer is that the case. Now they run summer basketball tournaments and that’s it. And I think that’s a way to look at the NCAA, that it’s going to be diminished over time. There’s too much money of the game. It’s pro sports and you’re going to see the conferences become more powerful if they split off and start their own thing, all the big shots, that’s a possibility, but I think you’re unlikely to see it as long as the NCAA tournament remains such a hot property.

We’re already seeing conferences start to accumulate power in the country’s most lucrative college sport, college football. Paul Finebaum is one of the most recognizable voices in sports media. He began his career as an investigative journalist before creating one of the most popular radio sports shows, The Paul Finebaum Show. And he thinks the NCAA is losing its power to the five biggest college football conferences, the ones that include teams like Alabama, Michigan, and Ohio State.

About ten years ago, the Power Five Commissioners, that’s the Big Ten, the ACC, the Big 12, the SCC and the PAC 12 came up with an autonomy plan where they basically have moved all the power. But the five conference commissioners, when they meet, it reminds me I’ll go old school here reminds me of the five families of New York.

Clip from The Godfather


I want you to arrange a meeting with the heads of the five families.

You got the Gambino’s over here, then you got the Staten Island boys, and you know, you’ve got the guys come in from Philly and in the Midwest and that’s really what they are. They control the entire sport.

Paul believes the NCAA served its purpose. It was important early on to have a rule structure in place. But once the Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA could not control the TV appearance of colleges, then the major conferences became the ones signing the big deals with TV networks and creating their own tournaments. The moment TV deals entered the equation, the most powerful governing body in sports wasn’t the NCAA. It was ESPN.

And there is no more influential and important entity in college sports than ESPN. They pay the bills, they put the games on.

College football and basketball have become multibillion dollar TV and streaming leagues. And when it’s hard to distinguish between a professional game and a college game, that leads to a question why do athletes bother with the NCAA student athlete rules at all? Why not just go straight into professional leagues? For some players, it comes down to age restrictions on professional sports. The NFL requires players to be at least three years out of high school before they’re eligible for the draft. The NBA requires you to be 19 years old. So historically, college sports has been the most obvious path. But that may be about to change, at least for basketball.

The NBA is about to sign a new collective bargaining agreement between the Players Association and the league, and it’s expected that they’re going to allow high school players to declare for the draft and go right into the draft. So we’re going to see more LeBron James types go straight to the NBA without going to college. That’s going to hurt college basketball. It’s not going to kill it, but it’s going to diminish it. My guess is it’ll be at least 15 players a year that are going to choose to go directly from high school to the NBA and forego college. You know, over a four year period that’s going to be 60 players take the top 60 players out of any league and it’s going to hurt it. So it’s going to hurt college basketball.

And there are also other alternatives emerging that could offer athletes a path that doesn’t involve college sports. The NBA has recently launched a minor league called the G League, and that’s a system more similar to what we’ve seen in American baseball, which has a three tiered minor league because college baseball wasn’t as popular as college basketball or college football, a more legitimate farm system developed for those baseball players. If the NCAA didn’t exist, would we see more robust minor league basketball and football options? In Europe, elite soccer athletes often go straight into a multi-tiered system, bypassing the college option altogether. Tim Nevius’s company operates another minor league option for basketball players, which is called Overtime Elite. They offer talented players an alternative path to the pros, directly paying athletes between the ages of 16 and 19 a base salary of $100,000 a year to play in its league.

Overtime Elite based in Atlanta that has now provided new opportunities for elite basketball players in men’s basketball to earn compensation for their participation prior to going on to the already established professional leagues.

For more than a century the money that flowed into college sports did not make its way to the players. If the NCAA had not introduced the idea of unpaid student athletes, it’s not hard to imagine a more established minor league system emerging, which might have led to a lot more athletes becoming multimillionaires as teenagers. And, like Jay Bilas said, creating a path to the pros for young athletes does not have to kill college sports. In some sports like tennis or golf, it’s more common to see superstar teams playing professionally. Serena Williams played her first professional match at the age of 14, but plenty of athletes like Brittany Collens would still choose the college route, even if she thinks the NCAA is broken.

Brittany Collens


While we know that athletes would be a lot healthier if the NCAA did not exist, that’s true. I think we’d have a lot of healthier, happier athletes. Athletes would have more flexibility in choosing their classes, their education, and then doing their own programs. When it comes to like how much they want to train. That is a good thing. I am not somebody that says, let’s get rid of the NCAA, where a lot of people do say that because like the idea is great. I think I would miss it because there is something about no matter how bad it is, that bond of being an athlete with other athletes, it kind of for a lot of people, I think closes that chapter of working your entire life for something. And, you know, no matter whether you have a great experience or a bad experience, you wouldn’t have that bond if the NCAA didn’t exist.

Would that bond between athletes be different in a minor league setting instead of a collegiate one? I honestly don’t know. One other factor Tim Nevius believes we should consider is that the money from sports like football and basketball allow universities to pay for sports that don’t generate revenue, including women’s sports. So any new system should be focused on equity.

Regardless of how college sports develops, there has to be a huge amount of consideration given to the equity on a gender basis to protect women’s sports, because they- although women’s sports, often derive benefits from the revenue generated by men’s sports, women haven’t had the same opportunities to produce those high level competitions that generate those revenues. It’s changing slowly, and it should continue to change. But as you consider how college sports are organized, there has to be some thought given to continuing to increase opportunities for women, which could be impacted by professionalizing some of the men’s sports in particular. And that’s an issue that shouldn’t be used to justify the current inequities, but should be addressed significantly in understanding what are the values that push sports forward, particularly in providing new opportunities for women.

No matter what the future holds, Paul Finebaum believes college sports play an important role in the lives of fans.

I was speaking one night in Gadsden, Alabama and I was ripping the Alabama coach and a guy grabbed me afterwards and I mean, I thought he was going to kill me. He said you don’t know what you’re talking about, I said, What do you mean? And let me tell you a story. He said, I was in Vietnam. We were near the DMZ. And you know what kept me alive? I go, No. He said my parents would send me tapes of Alabama games, and while I was on guard duty all night, I listened to those games, and it inspired me to want to get back because nothing was more important in my life than getting out of Vietnam to go cheer for the Tide. So in a way, I mean, there are a lot of contradictions, but I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it so many different times, Chris. You do get pleasure when you hear stories like that, and there are a thousand of those I’ve heard from guys that were in Afghanistan and Iraq was this the exact same story, it means that much.

The NCAA built a system unlike anything else in the world. It’s a weird hybrid of amateur and professional sports, and it gave fans moments like watching their favorite team defeat their archrival for the first time in decades. For all of its flaws, when the NCAA first came together at the dawn of the 20th century, it built the system that would eventually inspire fandom so fervent that it would give some fans something to live for. It offered a pathway to college for thousands of athletes, even as it denied those athletes compensation for their labor. Maybe some other governing body would have worked better in its place. Maybe even more college sports would be on TV. Maybe more teenagers would go straight into the pros. But for a hundred years, the NCAA shaped the course of amateur athletics.

And now let’s see how well Jay Bilas knows NCAA trivia. Okay. 14 Division one Universities have a bulldog as their mascot. 13 Use the Tiger 11 school are the Eagles, but only one school is represented by the Banana Slugs. Do you know that university?

Correct! One for one. Well done.

You would know that from a Quentin Tarantino film. I think Travolta wore the T-shirt.

Yes. In Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” after John Travolta’s character, Vincent Vega, shoots another character splattering blood in the suit, he is forced to change clothes.

Clip from Pulp Fiction


Oh, man, I shot Marvin in the face.

He’s then shown on screen wearing a UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs T-shirt. Okay. The first NCAA basketball tournament was played in 1939 and featured just eight teams who won that tournament? And the hint is this team would not make another Final Four appearance until 2017.

Oregon won the first one.

Well this- you’re making it too easy. Yes. Oregon won it. And they at the time, they were known as the Oregon Web Foots, which I still kind of like as a mascot, but they changed it to Ducks. Here’s another fun fact about the Oregon Ducks. The university has a special licensing agreement with Disney, which is why the cartoon logo looks virtually identical to Donald Duck.

Okay. If you get this one, I’ll be really impressed. The award that would become known as the Heisman Trophy was first awarded by the Downtown Athletic Club in 1935. The inaugural award was known as the DAC Trophy and went to Jay Berwanger. After the death of John Heisman in 1936, the trophy was renamed after him. Who was the first player to win the newly named Heisman Trophy?

Wow, I don’t think I know that. I knew Jay Berwanger from the University of Chicago was the first winner, but I’m not sure I know who won the first Heisman. What year was it?

1936. Uh, it wasn’t Red Grange, was it?

No, but that’s who I would have guessed, too. It was Larry Kelly. And talk about- so University of Chicago wins the first one and Yale University wins the first Heisman. So great, great-.

Different landscape back then.

Yes. Okay. Well, I have a feeling you’re going to get this one. Okay. Question For December 2020, the coach of Stanford’s women’s basketball team became the winningest coach in women’s college basketball history, passing a long time coach from the University of Tennessee. Name either coach.

I can name them both. Tara Vanderveer and Pat Summitt.

Nailed it. Gosh, on fire. Okay, last one. I love this one. One of the two teams, one of the two teams to play in the first ever nine man college baseball game under current rules is also the team with the most wins in college baseball history. At 4,551 wins, this college based in the Bronx has nearly 1000 more wins than the second team on the all time list, which is Texas. What is that school based in the Bronx?

Based in the Bronx? What’s that, St John’s?

Fordham. The Fordham Rams.

They have the most college baseball history. Isn’t that wild? Okay. Pretty damn good by you.

We can’t help but be drawn to the Cinderella story, the idea of an underdog knocking off a powerhouse. Those stories are harder to find in professional sports. But in a league of 1100 college teams, the next upset may be just around the corner. The NCAA built itself into $1,000,000,000 empire by building itself on the backs of unpaid athletes, it may have also put itself on the path to obsolescence. We love our sports, and if the NCAA does dwindle, something new may emerge in its place. We’ll have to wait and see whether the alternatives are any better, but I’m sure it will tap into the best and worst of all of us sports fans.

Thank you to Tim Nevius, Brittney Collins, Jay Bliss and Paul Finebaum for joining us today. Let me know your thoughts about the NCAA and college sports by tweeting me @ Chris C-I-L-L-I-Z-Z-A. And if you’ve got ideas for future topics, send those to me there too. Also, if you like our show, share it with your friends and make sure you rate, review, and subscribe. Next time on Downside Up: What if sneaker culture didn’t exist?

When you realize that there are tens of thousands of people that get to work on different aspects of what footwear and the sneaker culture really is and how it moves as a whole, it’s really an awesome thing to have.

Downside Up is hosted by me, Chris Cillizza. It’s a production of CNN in collaboration with Pod People. At CNN our producer is Lori Galarreta and our executive producer is Abbie Fentress Swanson. Alexander McCall leads audience strategy for the show. Tameeka Ballance-Kolasny is our production manager and Jamus Andrest and Nichole Pesaru designed our artwork.

The team from Pod People includes Rachael Kang, Matt Sav, Aimee Machado, John Hammontree, Madison Lusby, Regina de Heer, and Morgane Fouse.

Theme and original music composed by Casey Holford. Additional music came from epidemic sound.

Special thanks to Lindsay Abrams, Fuzz Hogan, Drew Shankman, Lisa Namerow, John Dianora, Katie Hinman, Robert Mathers, and Sarina Singh

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