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  • Intercollegiate Athletics, Inc.: How Big-Time College Sports Cheat Students, Taxpayers, and Academics by James T. Bennett
  • Chad Carlson
Bennett, James T. Intercollegiate Athletics, Inc.: How Big-Time College Sports Cheat Students, Taxpayers, and Academics. New York: Routledge, 2020. Pp. 223. Index. $116.00, hb. $31.16, pb. $25.32, eb.

The American college sport model has received large amounts of criticism throughout its existence. Scores of scholars from disparate fields have written critiques of the NCAA, American college sport's leading organization; countless media pundits weigh in regularly on injustices in the system; and any fan can regurgitate any of these criticisms. Criticizing college sport seems like a tired scholarly endeavor.

So, what does Intercollegiate Athletics, Inc.: How Big-Time College Sports Cheat Students, Taxpayers, and Academics have to offer on this topic that has not already been said? At first glance, not much. A book criticizing college sport is nothing new. However, author James T. Bennett has wedged his way into this busy topic with insightful content and some beautiful and intellectually engaging prose.

Many of the scholarly critiques of college sport policies are prone to polemics. For some reason, antipathy toward perceived college sport inequities evoke such emotions that authors often attack using means beyond the logic of arguments. This book is no different. Readers will encounter polemics within many arguments throughout the book, regularly disguised as well-timed humor. More prominently, though, Bennett's manuscript presents a deep engagement with the topic that highlights certain aspects of criticism toward college sport that have not received their proper platform.

After a standard introduction that parallels other scholarly critiques of college sport, Bennett offers a well-researched and cleverly written chapter on intercollegiate sport origins. The next section features a detailed collection of historical cases that describe the ways in which colleges have overemphasized football. In these early sections, Bennett relies heavily on the prominent work done by many of the leading historians of higher education and college sport. His narrative—a mix of primary and secondary sources—is engaging and informative.

From there, Bennett makes a quick transition into his specialty: current issues of public policy. He offers three critiques listed in the book's subtitle: that college athletics cheat students, taxpayers, and academics. The first argument is a disclosure of the widespread practice of institutions requiring student fees, a large portion of which goes to fund intercollegiate athletics. In this chapter, Bennett offers plenty of statistics of schools that gouge students with mandatory fees to support intercollegiate athletics. The author most poignantly attacks small and mid-level NCAA Division I institutions, but he leaves no school unscathed.

Bennett titles his chapter on how college athletics cheat taxpayers, "Money Changes Everything." In this section, he laments the "Brobdingnagian salaries" (104) of high-profile coaches that seem to be ever-increasing. Bennett fails to contextualize this alarming trend with parallels to the rest of the world of big business, but this serves his argument: that college athletics, as part of large state institutions funded at least in part by taxpayers, function with big-business operational models but receive benefit from not-for-profit tax [End Page 73] codes that attract large-scale, tax-exempt private donations in ways that actually hurt the institutions and their home states. While the statistics that drive this argument are well known publicly, Bennett's impressive ability to scrutinize them as public-policy problems provides new insight.

The third chapter in the heart of Bennett's book may be the most compelling; it is also the longest and most sweeping. The author argues that college athletics does not provide the institution with the "boost" (130) that conventional wisdom says it does. Bennett cross-examines the arguments that successful sports teams increase the admissions of their institutions, improve the public perception of the schools, and provide an economic bump to the local areas. He does this, as is his modus operandi throughout the text, with humor, anecdotes, and sophisticated and polished rhetoric, even if the absence of evidence for certain claims may bother a historian at times.

Following the heart of the book, Bennett offers a short chapter, "A Game for Every...


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pp. 73-74
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