Saturday, September 25, 2010

Is the NCAA welfare-enhancing (Part 3)

Continuing this series has been on my to-do list since June. The increasing press about investigations and sanctions against NCAA schools lately have made thinking about this issue important.

The Wall Street Journal published an analysis in June of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. The gist of it:

Over 18 months, the athletic reform commission compiled data on college sports finances and found that at institutions belonging to major athletics conferences, median spending per athlete ranged from four to almost 11 times more than median spending on students for educational purposes. In 2008, median per capita athletics spending for Football Bowl Subdivision conference institutions was $84,446, compared to a median $13,349 per capita for academic spending.
A graph:


The purpose of university seems to be becoming less about educating and more about training athletes. The University of Kentucky purports that its athletics budget is separate from its general fund, so it can afford to pay John Calipari what it does ($3.8 million in base salary this year). Much of the money for athletics comes from private donations. The problem is that there is a "crowding out" effect here. Every dollar raised for athletics is a dollar lost for the general education fund. Do many donors feel that more value is added to society by donating it to athletics rather than education? Or does the utility derived from their favorite team improving simply outweigh what they perceive the loss to society of having a less-educated population?

A better example would be the recent contract negotiations of Texas Tech with former coach Mike Leach. Last December, the Dallas Morning News published emails between university officials and attorneys about Leach's contract demands. One telling line in an email to the university's chancellor:
"Bottom line, we can't afford what he is asking for. Every $100,000 we give him is $1.5 million in improvements we could have bonded."

Giving a raise to the coach would have indeed detracted from the budget of the overall university.

When I look at the sidelines today, I see all of the millions of dollars spent on insurance, equipment, salaries, and scholarships and reach the conclusion that the benefits cannot outweigh the costs. Yes, the universities make millions off of TV deals and the exposure may attract student applicants. But a great deal of that money is plowed back into the athletics department and as the Knight study showed, increasingly less of it is going toward education.

I've seen first-hand how athletes are shuffled into the easiest majors, graduating with having learned little and without a marketable degree. I've seen basketball players kept eligible in the fall for spring semester while coaches looked the other way as they flunked their spring classes because nothing mattered after March was over. I've seen football coaches bring in junior college transfers with semesters of classes that won't transfer, knowing the player will transfer out again after the football season is over because all the coach wants the kid for is football that year (and, admittedly, all admissions wants is to hit its enrollment targets...). What value is added to society and the university from this? Are the thousands of dollars spent on the player and program really reaping benefits for the university and society, outside of the W/L column?

I find it difficult as a Christian to support activities I increasingly believe are immoral and harmful to both students and, therefore, the greater society. I can't look at the above and say "that's okay." I want to make sure I know my dollar is going toward the education side, and not to athletics.

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