In the manner of college bowl games that have sold their names to corporations and created such abominations as the U S F & G Sugar Bowl, now comes Georgia Tech's solicitation of a corporate sponsor for each of its seven home football games this fall. Five games can be had for $75,000 a pop. The price goes to $100,000 for the Thanksgiving weekend game against Boston College and to $175,000 for the annual dance with the Dawgs from Georgia.
A corporation's cash will buy a bundle of goodies: parking spaces, VIP seating and mention in 100 regional TV spots promoting the game. The corporate name will go on stadium signs. Appreciation will be expressed in game-day literature. All but breathless in anticipation, Georgia Tech marketing and promotions director Kevin Bryant says, "When you look at the money in corporate sponsorship, it's unbelievable."
As far as Bryant knows, only Georgia Tech and San Diego State have embraced the idea of corporate sponsorship of regular-season games. He is quick to add that other schools have tapped the same market, only not so fully. For example, corporations have been buying advertising space in stadiums for years.
Anyway, what's to worry? "We wouldn't do anything to jeopardize our integrity," says Bryant. "There will be no corporate logos on the field, no logos on the helmets or on the jerseys, nothing on the player's being. There will be minimal signage [sic] inside the stadium. The last thing we want to do is make it a negative thing for Georgia Tech. We wouldn't be doing this if it looked like Barnum & Bailey on a Saturday afternoon."
Immediate hometown response to Georgia Tech's plan was unkind. A letter writer to The Atlanta Constitution, suggesting that the Yellow Jackets' record in the '80s, 36-60-4, had left his stomach a little queasy, said, "We will probably need sponsors like Pepto-Bismol and Extra Strength Tylenol."
The concept is also troubling because Georgia Tech is a proud institution whose stadium is named for the late Bobby Dodd, the legendary Tech football coach who was always a symbol of propriety and grace. In 1986, Dodd said, "I wouldn't want to be coaching college football today at all. There's some cheating, too much cheating, because there's too much pressure involved, and that's because there's too much money involved."
After selling games, what's next? How long before we hear Georgia Tech's stadium announcer say, " Wake Forest's BellSouth extra-point try was blocked by Tech's Coca-Cola linebacker Woody Woodson, and now the Georgia-Pacific scoreboard shows Wake Forest with 20 Marriott points to Georgia Tech's 17 Domino's Pizza points"?
The corporate presence on campus is nothing new; university endowments and academic chairs have long been funded by generous corporations. What's unsettling is what corporate sponsorship says about college athletic programs and the people who run them. It says those people are lying to us and stealing from their athletes. Instead of cutting their athletic programs down to size, they keep making them an ever bigger business. Even as they tell us that college athletics is amateur sports, they know better. It is pro sports. The only difference between Georgia Tech's conference, the ACC and the NFL is that the ACC has a better deal. It doesn't have to pay its players.
Hypocrisy in college sports is old stuff. In 1929 the Carnegie Foundation declared college football a sorry mess of mercenaries posing as students. In 1938 the noted sportswriter Paul Gallico called college football "the leader in the field of double-dealing, deception, sham, cant, humbug and organized hypocrisy.... Economically, the principles under which the colleges work are sound. Ethically and morally, they smell to high heaven." Twelve years later Red Smith wrote, "There is something scandalous about a college collecting hundreds of thousands in gate receipts and paying off the help with a bowl of rice."
Reasonable people understand the problem. San Francisco 49er running back Spencer Tillman, who played at Oklahoma, says of today's college athlete, "He can sense the unfairness. He feels he's being cheated." Basketball coaches Bob Knight of Indiana, Dean Smith of North Carolina and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke say that athletes deserve financial help beyond tuition and room and board.