George Leef”s latest Martin Center column focuses on the role of sports in higher education.

College sports are a gigantic entertainment business that have nothing to do with the missions of the schools. Frequently, the highest-paid employee of a school is the football or basketball coach, and the athletics budget is hugely subsidized by fees paid by financially strapped students. Players who read and write at a middle-school level (if even that) are recruited to help teams win, but the academic work they do is laughable. Schools rack up big debts trying to win glory on the gridiron or court, even if it means scrimping on faculty salaries and building maintenance.

How did this lamentable state of affairs come about?

To find out, the book to read is Intercollegiate Athletics, Inc. by professor James T. Bennett. He has researched the history of college sports in America, starting with the earliest days (when contests were organized and run by students for their own enjoyment) up to the latest scandals and perversions. He explains how the sports juggernaut gathered force (first football, later basketball) and recounts the various efforts (mostly unsuccessful) to stop or at least slow it. And perhaps most usefully, he points out that the high cost of college sports falls mainly on students through mandatory fees—a tax on education that goes to benefit a pampered few.

If you’re bothered by the fact that, as the author reports on a recent study, Division I schools (the top level in the NCAA’s hierarchy) spend three to six times as much on athletics per athlete as they do on academics per student, then this is a book you’ll want to read.