Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New Data on Sports in Higher Education

There is a long-standing concern in higher education about the cost of athletic programs, and how much spending on sports takes away from the academic mission of universities. Scandal after scandal involving eligibility, an NCAA that is by turns draconian and toothless, and persistent reports of football coaches earning far more than campus presidents (or many CEOs) have all fed the perception that college sports isn't about "amateur scholar-athletes" - it's a big business which has largely outgrown the academic tail on the university dog.

In a way, this concern echoes the social conflict in school itself between "jocks" and "geeks" - between those who idolize, even worship, sports and those who fear sports' dark side. In the realm of money and universities, geeks fear, the jocks have won the lion's share of resources.

Into this fray steps the Delta Cost Project, the most comprehensive attempt to gather data on performance in higher education to date. They have just released a report titled "Academic Spending vs. Athletic Spending: Who Wins?" The results are not encouraging for those of us on the academic side:
Athletic departments spend far more per athletethan institutions spend to educate the averagestudent—typically three to six times as much;among Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) institutions,median athletic spending was nearly $92,000 perathlete in 2010, while median academic spendingper full-time equivalent (FTE) student was less than$14,000 in these same universities.
Athletic costs increased at least twice as fast asacademic spending, on a per-capita basis acrosseach of the three Division I subdivisions.
Very few Division I athletic departments areself-funded; instead, most programs rely on athleticsubsidies from institutions and students. However,the largest per-athlete subsidies are in thosesubdivisions with the lowest spending per athlete.Without access to other large revenue streams,these programs have increasingly turned to theirinstitutions to finance additional athletic spending.
In other words - yes, sports programs (football in particular, but sports in general) have been sucking revenue away from the academic side of the house, and at an increasing rate in recent years. Given the relatively small numbers of students who participate in and benefit from these programs (especially the few programs that take the biggest bucks), and the lack of data on the educational impact of those programs relative to university educational goals, it's hard to escape the conclusion that this is simply wasted money from an institutional mission perspective.

My preferred solution has long been to spin off the costly and potentially lucrative sports (football, basketball, maybe baseball) into what amount to professional minor leagues (yes, baseball already has this, I know. What's a few more minor league teams?) Let their profits stand or fall on their own. If they want an emotional connection to a university, let them license the name, logos and mascot for a fee. But get 'em off campus and away from the university's budget.

I'm sure that others could come up with even better and more creative solutions. I'm also realistic enough to understand that none of these solutions is likely to happen, because those who are making money on this system are making a lot of it and will be very resistant to any change. But at the least, this report should pose some uncomfortable questions for Division I (especially Div. IA) presidents, who have the power (but have lacked the vision or the courage) to take action.

No comments:

Post a Comment