STANZ: The ailment of college athletics

Mar 26, 2022; Wichita, KS, USA; Floor logo at mid court prior to the game between the Tennessee Lady Vols and the Louisville Cardinals in the Wichita regional semifinals of the women’s college basketball NCAA Tournament at INTRUST Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

College athletics are sick.

They aren’t sick in a literal sense or sick in the slang sense of being cool. They’re not sick in the sense of being harmful to anyone.

No, college athletics are sick the same way a guy who eats McDonald’s for every meal then never works out or gets his annual physical is sick. He’s shocked to learn his cholesterol or blood pressure is high when he finally does see a doctor.

Those things alone aren’t going to kill our hypothetical unhealthy man, but if left alone for long enough they could lead to something irreversible.

College athletics has spent years getting fat off McDonald’s and refusing to go to the gym and is barrelling towards a heart attack that could ruin them forever.

This isn’t an indictment on name, image and likeness, or even the transfer portal. Players deserve the right to profit off their platform. Players deserve the freedom to move on if they believe there’s a better situation out there for them.

Like many people out there, I transferred once while I was in college.

It was the best decision I ever made and changed my life. It is why I’m here able to write this column right now.

No, this has nothing to do with the players or any of the new rights they’ve been granted in recent years.

This is more about the complete void of leadership in college athletics as a whole. College athletics’ ailments are the product of the group at the top taking the entity’s health and the things that make it great for granted.

This isn’t another column to dunk on Mark Emmert, either.

Emmert, and many of his failings, were a product of his bosses’ unwillingness to change with the times. Not only were they unwilling, but they were also dragged kicking and screaming into this new age by the United States Supreme Court.

The result of that tantrum was the NCAA kicking the can down the road and shrugging its shoulders. Like my college basketball coach once said while telling me and my teammates we had to buy our own breakfast during a Christmas break trip to Washington…

“You’re on your own, fellas.”

That ‘you’re on your own, fellas,’ mentality has been taken to the extreme by the true leaders in the collegiate money sports football and men’s basketball, the conference commissioners, and television executives.

Those people are more concerned about securing their own bag, even if it comes to the detriment of others or college athletics as a whole.

Who cares what happens to the Big 12 or Pac-12 or Mountain West or American Athletic Conference if the SEC and Big Ten are strong, right?


College athletics have never been great because of any one conference, no matter how much ESPN might try to convince people otherwise.

This dumb and ridiculous hobby has been great because of the passion and pageantry that requires everyone across the country connecting to their own piece of it the pie.

It is just as great because of a jam-packed stadium in Ames, Iowa as it is because of a jam-packed stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. It is just as great because of a rowdy gym in Spokane, Wash. as it is because of a jam-packed gym in Lawrence, Kan.

College athletics are great because of the connection everyone across the country can find to their specific corner of the industry.

We are cutting out large swaths of the country with college athletics’ current trajectory, and that’s not good for the health of literally anybody in this business.

The leadership in college athletics is taking its fans for granted in a time when entertainment options have never been more plentiful. There are innumerable other things that people could spend their time and hard-earned money on.

Ask the average college athletics fan if they think they’ll be as interested in college sports in 10 years as they are right now. I promise you’re not going to like the majority of answers you hear.

I’m tuned into the pulse of average college athletics fans through the connections I’ve made in nearly 10 years of doing this. People haven’t tuned it out, but I don’t think we’re too far away from that being a very real possibility as we continue this every man for himself mentality that alienates portions of the base that makes the industry so strong.

This is the thing that gets me so frustrated when I read quotes like the one I saw from Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self on Wednesday about NIL and the transfer portal in college basketball.

“We haven’t put our arms around it yet,” Self told Mark Berman of FOX 26. “Everybody’s kind of interpreting it their own way which is totally permissible and legal within the rules. It’s changed the playing field to maybe where it’s not quite as level as what it potentially could be. But I’m all for the kids and their families benefiting from this, there’s nothing wrong with that. But once again, a kid shouldn’t transfer because he can get $50,000 more, or be told he can get $50,000 more somewhere else, and this place has actually done a very, very good job in helping develop him.”

Self’s acknowledgment of the things that are bad for the sport isn’t anything new. There are a lot of people making similar statements, and I’m willing to bet those things played a significant role in a guy like former Villanova head coach Jay Wright stepping away from it all.

Wright is the canary in the coal mine.

The frustrating thing about Self’s quote is that anybody with half a brain knows even though he acknowledges it is bad for college basketball, he’ll turn around and play that exact game for his benefit.

I don’t blame Self specifically for that, because anybody in his position would be stupid not to use their advantage to help themselves and their program.

Again, it is every man for themselves with no regard for anything or anyone else.

Self’s quote is like someone saying, ‘Man, can you believe what’s happening to the environment? It is horrible that we’re destroying the Earth,’ then dumping an entire bag of garbage on the ground and walking away.

People like Self, a two-time national champion head coach and one of the faces of college basketball, are the ones we are supposed to look towards in leadership in college athletics in turbulent times. They’re supposed to be the voices of reason who help us get back on track to keep the entity strong.

We don’t have many of those guys left anymore. Wright, Coach K and Roy Williams have ridden into the sunset, and I can’t blame them in the slightest at this point.

They surely saw the writing on the wall that this thing is headed towards being something completely unrecognizable from what those passionate fans fell in love with.

People aren’t passionate about something forever just for the sake of being passionate. They’re passionate as long as the thing still resembles the thing they’ve always loved.

And we’re going to start losing those people before long.

Reversing any of the negatives or getting this thing back on the rails towards a long and prosperous future of college athletics will require someone stepping up to lead in a way that looks out for everyone rather than only worrying about what happens in their own corner of the country.

Those corners of the country don’t look nearly as appealing to people looking to spend their money when everything else around them has been burnt to the ground.

College athletics are sick, and they will be until someone steps in and forces a few people to eat a salad and go for a run. There has to be someone out there who is ready to fight for the greater good rather than looking to line their own pockets as thick as possible.

Until then, you’re on your own, fellas.

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.