School-sponsored sports programs and the academic mission

by Matthew Gast

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With my recent reading on baseball stadia and the extortion of playing facilities by major league teams, it was only natural that I would eventually come across something on the impact sports has on the collegiate environment.

The linked New York Times article describes the impact of sports on the college environment, focusing on the University of South Florida, a school which only recently jumped into the sports rat race. They are an NCAA Division I school, which means that they have started an obscenely expensive program.

There are a couple of excellent points deep in this article. First, the coach insists his team is "revenue producing," a term which he must have learned from some out-of-work Andersen accountants. The football program does break even, but only because a good size share of shared athletic costs they run up are not attributed to them, such as the $8,000 annual laundry detergent bill to wash uniforms.

Second, check out the coach's salary. He currently is underpaid at "only" $180,000/year. (The conference average annual take is $410,000!) In an early interview, he felt that his "market value" was $500,000-600,000. USF recently agreed with him and tore up his old contract to give him a new one, with a final year payout of $700,000.

Third, it's mentioned this is a clean program. There has not been a great deal of trouble, especially in relation to other football programs. As the article says, "[t]here have been some scuffles, as well as a gunplay accident in which a player was wounded." (emphasis mine) Given the often high-profile treatment of guns today, especially in relation to schools, it is shocking to see gun violence by "student-athletes" treated so casually.

It's articles like this that illustrate the real problem with Title IX, which requires that educational programs that receive federal money be free of sex discrimination. (Athletics are typically the most visible source of Title IX lawsuits.) Title IX is indubitably a good thing, and has been used to strengthen women's athletic programs. The reality of the situation is that administrators are unwillilng to touch the sacred cow of football programs, so minor men's sports are eliminated to "save" the football program. (In 1975, a Congresscritter from Texas introduced a law to exempt football from Title IX regulations to prevent just this.) In fact, the National Wrestling Coaches Association is suing over the widespread "football as sacred cow" implementation of Title IX. This Cincinnati Enquirer article gets to the same point by woefully sexist and inadequate reasoning. In it, the University of Cincinnati athletic director said that "money making sports should be supported." As the Times article shows, football programs probably don't make money unless the most creative accounting techniques are applied.