March 24, 2011; Source: | Conditions in sports must be bad if Ralph Nader is questioning collegiate athletics the same way he went after the Chevrolet Corvair’s propensity for self-induced spins and rollovers. In the national championship game of sports nonprofits, it’s Nader ‘s tiny upstart League of Fans calling for the elimination of college athletic scholarships against the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its allied athletic conferences standing up for the opportunity to educate what they call “student athletes.”

Nader contends that college sports should be “de-professionalized,” that the UConn/Butler game last night should have been dubbed the “NCAA Professional Basketball Championship” given the myth of college athletics amateurism. He calls for replacing athletic scholarships with need-based financial aid.

Connecticut faces three years of sanctions due to recruiting violations. Prior to coaching Kentucky (Connecticut’s “Elite Eight” opponent), John Calipari had been hit with major sanctions for his past recruiting faux pas at Memphis and UMass. Former coach and l’enfant terrible of the University of Indiana, Bobby Knight goes so far as to say, “integrity is really lacking and that’s why I’m glad I’m not coaching.”

Like “Cindarella,” Butler (total enrollment of 4,500 students) vs. the Big East’s perennial powerhouse Connecticut (with two NCAA championships under coach Jim Calhoun), there’s another match-up occurring between Ralph Nader and the NCAA. Nader’s “League of Fans” organization is a project of the Center for the Study of Responsive Law (total revenue, due to market losses in 2009, a loss of $1,483,151). The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s total revenues are $705,528,721.

Does Nader’s pint-sized 501(c)(3) project have a chance against the 501(c)(3) NCAA? It’s actually more lopsided than it appears, because the NCAA has a deep bench in the form of the Big Ten Conference (revenues of $221,990,259), the Big East ($103,094,561), the Atlantic Coast Conference ($172,701,498), and other (c)(3) stalwarts.

"March Madness" isn't just a basketball tournament anymore. It's become big business, with television rights alone worth $10.8 billion. While all these billions are being thrown about, the players themselves can’t make a dime.

Nader said that colleges should either integrate athletics into the educational mission by eliminating college scholarships, or, "openly acknowledge the professionalism in big-time college sports, remove the tax-exempt status currently given to athletic departments, and make universities operate them as unrelated businesses." At least that way the talent that brings the NCAA billions could be properly compensated.—Rick Cohen