You may have thought I was joking, earlier, when I suggested that Universities could reduce college costs by cutting their athletic programs...but I wasn't. The reasons for this are that Freddie's Five Ways to Cut College Costs are all perfect examples of athletic department waste or strategies to cut school costs via ending athletics.
So here are TAE's Corollary to Freddie's Five Ways to Cut College Costs:
1. The bureaucracies of athletic departments are absurd. For example, the athletic department of Ohio State lists 458 people. This includes: an athletic director, four people with the title "senior associate athletic director," 12 associate athletic directors, an associate vice president, a "senior associate legal counsel for athletics" and a nine-person NCAA compliance office. The Ohio State's football program is equally absurd: 13 football coaches, a director of football operations, three associate directors of football operations, a director of football performance, and three trainers who are full-time football only. You might say "but that's okay, Ohio State is a huge football powerhouse and besides its athletic program is self-sustaining." Which if you said that you'd be wrong. Certainly, they are one of only 14 schools in the country that reported net positive revenue for the 2009-2010 school year. But they also rely more than a little on the boosters ($27 million over that period). If the athletic department were shuttered, many of these boosters might not donate to Ohio State (see below). But some would, and the school scholarship fund would benefit. Also, USAToday data show that the "$30 million in net revenue" at Ohio State is more likely a net deficit of about $100,000.
Ohio State is but one example. The football program of my own alma mater, has 13 coaches and the 20-person staff includes someone with the title of "Defensive Quality Control Graduate Assistant." The Mizzou Athletic Department includes: an Athletic Director, two Executive Associate Athletic Directors, and three Senior Associate Athletic Directors. Best yet: Mizzou's "Equipment Room" requires six full time employees, including two directors. Did you know the average NCAA division I "assistant football coach" makes over $250,000? Meanwhile, of the 160+ programs in the NCAA div I, only 14 are solvent.
A purist might argue that a school "needs an athletic department in order to field a competitive football/basketball/whatever team." Tell that to Vanderbilt, who has sent a basketball team to the NCAA tournament four of the last five years...and has no athletic department.
2. The number of services provided by athletic departments must be reduced. Part of the reason athletic departments have such tough fiscal issues is that the majority of their sports are massively negative in the revenue; the scholarships and equipment outlay is way higher than booster donations and ticket sales can balance. Did you ever buy a ticket to see collegiate women's golf? Of the NCAA report cited above, not a single school reported a single women's athletic program that was net positive in revenue. Why are these programs still in existence? The age-old argument is that the ability to obtain an athletic scholarship allows under-privileged youth to go to college in exchange for their physical abilities. This is ridiculous. Why does a school need to trade athletic efforts for scholastic compensation? Why not simply give these kids scholarships (they are under-privileged, right?) and then do away with the time-constraints put on them by their mandated athletic requirements? Take a poor (but bright) girl from the inner city. Send them to school on a scholarship. Will they do better in that school with more time spent playing softball or more time spent studying calculus?
By suggesting we end University athletics, I must emphasize that I do not mean we should end the scholarships that go with it (or just women's athletics). On the contrary, we should provide scholarships to kids. Just, not as a trade for their time on a field or a driving range or in a pool.
3. Stop the madcap physical expansion. As I type this, the University of Arizona is working on a $378 million expansion to their athletic facilities. UCLA is working on a $185 million renovation to their stadium. Auburn is building an $85 million basketball arena. Who pays for these mega-sports-complexes? You do, that's who. Want to sober up? Do a Google search for "university stadium renovation" and see how many schools from different states you can find in the first two pages of results (and only counting renovations in the last 3 years). By my count just now, 15. Many of these projects, like Michigan's $226 million renovation completed in 2010, are solely to cater to rich boosters. The Michigan renovation provided 3,200 "club level seats" and 83 luxury boxes, while yielding little or no benefit to students, faculty, or athletes.
The rule of thumb for university athletic stadium expansion is the "taxpayers pay half" rule. Now, I am all in favor of paying taxes towards things from which I derive no immediate benefit, for example Social Security, local primary and secondary schools, salaries of many government employes, etc. But in this case, taxpayers are being gouged to not to give benefits to others, they are being gouged to feed the egos of University Boards and athletic department oligarchies who are in an arms race to acquire for themselves power and wealth and nothing else. Michigan's stadium, pre-renovation, already held over 100,000 seats. After renovation, it still holds over 100,000 seats. The only real change is the ability to provide "luxury" space to separate the ultra-rich (who can afford the absurd costs of these climate-controlled boxes) from "the little people" who must sit out in the cold. Society gains, by and large, from taxes. They are used to provide services and utilities and take care of the needy. But in the case of this stadium-space-race, taxes are really just a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.
4. Penalize schools with low graduation rates. While the NCAA shows commercials during football games stating "there are over 16,000 NCAA student athletes", many football and basketball players are quietly calculating how soon they can drop out of college and become professional athletes.
Drop the act, NCAA. Most of us know full well that our entire culture revolves around "who's going pro" and when. If the NCAA has a commitment to student-athletes, then they need to be consistent across all sports. Of the 16,000+ student athletes in the NCAA, how many will truly become professionals? I assure you it is less than 1% per year. If the NCAA started penalizing schools that had low graduation rates by reducing funding or disqualifying those schools from the post-season, there would be a massive backlash. It will never happen. Schools like Kentucky go year after year intentionally recruiting "student-athletes" on scholarships knowing that those young men have no intention of graduating. This is a travesty - every one of those faux-students still attends classes occasionally, uses up administrative time, and wastes college resources.
By eliminating University athletics, you force wannabe-pros to find other routes there. Perhaps they could play on club teams at schools, on their own coin or on the coin of an agent who invested in promising high school athletes. Meanwhile, schools could provide scholarships completely for academic prowess, and wouldn't have the boat anchor of student-athletes with no interest in the "student" part. Nor would they have the troubling issue of student-athletes who travel for away games...and often miss up to a week of school in the process.
5. Recognize that not everyone is equipped to graduate from college. Freddie is right on, here. But never more so was this the case than the young men who have (by no fault of their own) an IQ around 85 but are able to dunk a basketball from the free-throw line. At my alma mater, these boys were assigned to the "General Agriculture" degree program, from which a black kid from east St. Louis would derive no present or future benefit. But the degree was really, really easy, so that's where they went. Students were paid part-time by the athletic department to do nothing but tutor these men, and during testing (I witnessed this myself on multiple occasions) the professor turned a blind eye on the student-athlete as he looked over the shoulder of someone who had been strategically placed in the row in front of him and was conveniently leaning out of the way so his/her paper was very visible.
Now I do not mean to specifically eviscerate my own school. Some of the members of the basketball squad were not goons. One was a biochemistry major who went into medicine after graduating with a 3.8. But all too often, people who were simply not mentally equipped to obtain a degree nor capable of using that degree effectively in the post-graduation world were jammed into college classes anyway so that the University athletic program could leech dunks and touchdowns and home runs out of them. Then, after four years they were promptly forgotten. It is as if colleges say "here, we'll give you this worthless diploma for a pointless degree in exchange for the majority of your time the next four years. Also, we'll make huge amounts of money off tickets people buy to come see you play a game, but we won't pay you anything. We'll give you a scholarship that you could not have possibly ever earned through your own mental faculties, and thereby one less enterprising, bright kid somewhere else will be denied a scholarship."
If we ended University athletics...yes, possibly not as many kids from East St. Louis would get college degrees. But in the meantime, the University would free up financial and physical resources to use on scholarships for kids who were better equipped to commercialize on their degree after graduation, and the University, the student, and the tax-paying bottom line would all benefit.
One last thought: many people will attempt to undermine this line of thinking by suggesting that a University's "brand" is established through the accolades and/or misadventures of the University's major sports teams. By depriving schools of this branding capability though ending the athletic departments, I would rob schools of one of their most effective methods of recruiting.
I suppose this could be true. But let me ask the counter question: if a school recruits students mostly through the selling of the students' access to football games...is the school really doing itself and the students any favors? If someone said "I only go to Michigan to watch the football games" I would not ask them why they chose Michigan, but rather I'd ask them why bother going to college at all? Anyone on Earth can buy a ticket to a Michigan game.
By robbing schools of this loony policy of recruiting students via athletic prowess, the schools would be forced to rely on "academic strength," "quality of professors," and God forbid "low tuition" as key traits that would lure students to the school. I don't know that this is a bad thing.
An interesting thought experiment would be if a school's athletic department shuttered, then sent the names of the entire booster list to the school's general fund. The general fund subsequently called each of these donors and asked if they would match their donation from last year, except this year it would go to the actual University and not the University Athletic Department. How many donors would balk? I think the sad truth is that at least 50% would.
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