Sports writer Patrick Hruby offers a breakdown of recent turmoil over the possibility that Texas A&M football star Johnny Manziel broke college sports rules pertaining to the payment of athletes. The piece provides some insights into the complicated political economy of U.S. American college sports. Billions of dollars circulate around athletes who are prohibited from being compensated, while university administrators, coaches and others make millions. The student-athletes have very little protection in the case of injury, which risks their scholarships, education and future careers, all while they serve as marketing tools for their schools.

College football and basketball are the primary attractors of big money. They also serve as training grounds for the NFL and NBA. Yet, neither league is culpable for the prospects, most of whom get filtered out, with a very small number making the pros and an even smaller number becoming stars. To explain this process the same assumptions of individual responsibility that backstop mainstream economic theory come to the fore: “those who want it work harder.” Yet, for the stars to develop, they require the high level of play that takes a serious toll on the bodies of the young men who take the field/court. The majority become unpaid fodder for this system that keeps the major leagues in marketable faces.