Striking a Nerve: The Atlantic

James Bennet, editor of The Atlantic, kindly offered me a magazine assignment to survey the world of college sports as an outside historian. We did not expect the result. Within hours of publication, Hall of Fame sports journalist Frank Deford ignited a national debate that continues.

Jeff MacGregor on ESPN: “The extraordinary Taylor Branch cover story in the October [2011] issue of The Atlantic lays out in precise and killing inventory the mortal sins of the NCAA. Frank Deford called it “the most important article ever written about college sports.” I’m sure you’ve heard about it by now. Please read it.”

Read the full article in The Atlantic >


See and Read Media Reactions

Jump to:  Remarks  |  Video  |  Audio  |  Articles


“Over the decades, the word amateur changed its meaning. It used to convey a moral sensibility, but now it conveys an economic one: not getting paid. As many universities have lost confidence in their ability to instill character, the moral mission of the university has withered. Commercialism and professionalism have filled the void. Taylor Branch’s superb cover article in the current issue of The Atlantic, “The Shame of College Sports,” shows how financial concerns have come to dominate college athletics. Everybody makes money except the players. College football coaches at public universities make more than $2 million on average, according to the article, and even assistant coaches sometimes make nearly $1 million.”

New York Times, David Brooks

“Dear Mr. Branch:

When Iraq was expelled from, or graduated from, the Axis of Evil, I wanted to give its place to the NCAA, for all the reasons so effectively explored in your terrific piece, and for torturing the University of Illinois over its mascot.”

George F. Will

Deadspin: “The aftershocks from “The Shame of College Sports,” Taylor Branch’s devastating cover story in The Atlantic, continue to ripple. Two other pieces are out today advancing the notion that college athletes deserve financial compensation.”

Deadspin: “Aside from reminding Americans for the next 15 minutes that history has actual value, Taylor Branch’s devastating article, “The Shame of College Sports,” finally fully legitimized the discussion of paying college athletes for their performance. It certainly didn’t approve the notion by fiat, but simply allowing it to enter the conversation as an equally reasonable proposition was triumph enough.” “For more on the “student-athlete” rhetorical device, set aside some time for Taylor Branch’s landmark piece on the NCAA.”

Orlando Sentinel: “This behemoth will take a long, long time to read. But it is absolutely worth it as Pulitzer Prize-winner Taylor Branch takes a look at the NCAA and the myth of amateurism.” “With Taylor Branch serving the NCAA the largest body blow to date in October’s The Atlantic Monthly, it is clear there is no other option: the NCAA not only has to die, it is inevitable that is will die.”



MSNBC, The Dylan Ratigan Show

PBS NewsHour with Hari Sreenivasan

National Sports Journalism Center, Dave Kindred



Hang Up and Listen, podcast

Historian Taylor Branch Critiques College Sports on WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station

The Sham of College Sports Podcast,, Eye on College Basketball



The New York Times: The Amateur Ideal, David Brooks

This Sporting Life, ESPN: It’s time: The death penalty for the NCAA

Sports Illustrated, Hoop Thoughts by Seth Davis: Should college athletes be paid? Why, they already are., Eye on College Basketball: The Sham of College Sports

The New Yorker: The End of College Football?

Business Insider: The Good, the Bad and the Potential of College Sports

San Antonio Express: Trinity lost glory and kept its soul

Charleston Gazette Mail: EDITORIAL: Should college athletes get paid?

The Dallas Observer: It’s About Time We Pay College Athletes and Get Them Off the NCAA’s Plantation

Bleacher Report: College Basketball: Are the Players Student-Athletes or Servant-Athletes?