I believe the U.S. has gotten one thing horribly wrong that the rest of the world has gotten honorably right-- namely, the co-opting of universities to be the home of major amateur athletics and to likewise serve as a minor league system for several professional sports.
If you're a teenage basketball player in Europe, you can turn professional, join a team and work your way up the ranks and pay scale. If you attend college it's because you want to, not because you want attention from NBA scouts or because the school is giving you a scholarship to play ball. It's simply a career choice you make as a teenager (similar to the way stock car racing works here, or even being drafted out of high school to play baseball).
Not so in the U.S. Our major amateur athletics are housed in universities. This leads to a few important differences from the rest of the world's schools which I see increasingly as inefficiencies:
1. The goal of the American university is not only to educate the mind, but also to develop athletes to their full potential.
2. Therefore, the resources of the university go not only to education, but to developing the athletic program.
3. As a result, the success of the university's academic programs and its athletic programs are intertwined, creating a symbiosis such that one cannot exist without the other.
On what grounds is this system defensible as being efficient from the standpoint of maximizing social welfare? Is this system equitable? Is there any hope of change? I hope to explore these questions in depth in future posts. On some points the cost/benefit analysis is pretty straightforward in terms of dollars and educational attainment of students. On other points, some subjective/normative statements have to be made. For example, should developing athletes be a goal of university as a supplement to a well-rounded education? Or does a well-educated individual add more value to a society than a well-developed athlete?
If anyone is out there with thoughts, articles, books, or questions, they are most welcome to comment.