Just Say No To College Football–It Is The Fiscally Responsible Action To Take
The best argued column I came across today was written by John Fry, president of Drexel University in Philadelphia. Since I have this idealized notion that higher education should be about EDUCATION the following excerpts from Fry’s column stand out and need to be re-posted.
In the past five years public universities have allocated more than $10.3 billion in student fees and other subsidies to prop up sports programs, according to a November examination by the Huffington Post and the Chronicle of Higher Education. A study released last year by the American Association of University Professors found that athletic spending increased by 25% at public four-year colleges between 2004 and 2011, adjusted for inflation. Funding for instruction and academic support remained nearly flat. The study also found that the median pay for NCAA Division I football head coaches.
In many states the highest-paid state employee is the head coach of the state university football or basketball team. University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban made $7.2 million last year, about 50 times more than the average pay of a full-time professor. But at least his team returned some revenue to the university.
That is unusual: A NCAA study last year found that only 20 of the nearly 130 university athletic programs in the top-flight Football Bowl Subdivision enjoyed a positive operating margin. The average loss was $17.6 million. These athletic programs wouldn’t survive in the private economy and only function by “taxing” the rest of the university.
Such a scenario may be what led the University of Chicago to drop football in 1939—though it was reinstituted in 1969 at the more low-key level of Division III. In the 1930s Robert Maynard Hutchins, then the university’s president, called college football an “infernal nuisance.” As Hutchins put it: “In many colleges, it is possible for a boy to win 12 letters without learning how to write one.”
Not many presidents today could get away with Hutchins’s candor. Last year University of Alabama at Birmingham President Ray Watts dropped the school’s football program because more than 65% of the $30 million athletic budget came from university funds and student fees. Then came calls for Mr. Watts’ resignation. Six months later the university said football would remain.
Not having a football program turns out to be a major strategic advantage for Drexel. Our student athletes in other sports win conference championships; many of our teams are nationally ranked. Our Division I athletic programs create a strong sense of pride on campus. But we focus entirely and exclusively on our mission: delivering a high-quality education for all students. More universities should feel welcome to join us.