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YIKES. Yet another pig-in-a-poke for funding public institutions. Not the way we should be financing them. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

It’s great that today EW is visiting UMass Lowell, which is riding high since announcing that its athletic teams will compete in Division 1 sports in the America East Conference.

I hope she is aware of the financial ramifications of that move and tempers any celebration of it with these sober facts. A new report by the Delta Cost Project at the American Institutes for Research shows that athletic departments of most public colleges and universities competing in NCAA Division I sports typically spend three to six times as much per athlete as their institutions spend to educate each of their students. The reports say median athletic spending for institutions that compete in the top tier Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, was $92,000 per athlete in 2010 while spending less than $14,000 per student on academics.

Not that UMass Lowell is there, but making this move almost always costs institutions (and the taxpayers that support them) more than they expect. In a recent NYTimes story Daniel Fulks, an accounting professor at Transylvania University who has spent the last 15 years as a research consultant for the NCAA said, “The reality is that football schools that move up a division almost always lose even more money. There’s not much defense of the economics in the short term or the long term.”

And the president of Tulane, Scott Cowen, expressed this caution: “What any school moving up in football should ask itself is this: what are the real costs of the benefits? You will get more visibility and exposure, and at first, that seems like a very good investment.  The problem is that once you wade in for keeps at the F.B.S. level, you face facility improvements, escalating coaching salaries, added staff and more athletic scholarships. The cost curve is extremely steep, and unless you’re in a power conference, the revenue is flat.”

UMass Lowell’s Marty Meehan need look no further than UMass Amherst for one hell of a lesson. Amherst moved up to the FBS this season (see FBS spending per athlete above) and was so optimistic it signed a contract to play “home” games at Gillette Stadium. What did this bold move cost us?

According to the Times story, on Dec. 11, a UMass faculty committee delivered an interim report that maintained that UMass was now spending $8.2 million on football annually, including debt payments on a $34.5 million facility improvement. That total, the report said, is significantly higher than anticipated and more than twice what UMass spent on football before the F.B.S. transition.

All of this brings me to Noah Berger’s Globe op-ed outlining what the tax cuts of the late 90’s have cost Massachusetts.

Higher education down 31 percent: Tuition and fees have roughly doubled, making access to higher education harder for moderate-income families and limiting the state’s ability to build a high-wage economy propelled by well-educated workers.
Local aid down 45 percent: With less state support, cities and towns have been forced to cut back on local services or shift costs to the property tax. (Or both)
Public health down 25 percent: Budget cuts have threatened the ability of public health agency to perform its core activities or fund even its most successful efforts, e.g. teen anti-smoking programs.  Early education and care down 28 percent: Research increasingly demonstrates that early education helps prepare kids to succeed in school and life. These cuts harm children and make it harder for low-income parents to work and support their families.

In the face of these disastrous budget cuts I, for one, do not want to see our state universities shelling out millions and millions to play with better teams and hope for the brass ring.


9 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Athletics should be entirely self-funding...

    ..via fees paid by the participants and ticket sales to games. No tuition and certainly no tax dollars should go to athletic endeavours.

    • I don't think things should go that far

      but the investments schools are allowed to make into athletics should certainly be far more modest, and more in keeping with the investments that are made via student fees to other well-funded student clubs.

      Some student associations and clubs when I went to UMASS Dartmouth were funded into the tens of thousands of dollar. One even received a budget large enough to fund speakers like Michael Moore, President Carter and famous bands and commedians, and while others were charged full price, students could go free or close to it.

      When I was apart of the student newspaper, I think we received something around $60k, because of printing costs, and we were only the second or third highest funded student club. The Theatre Company, when I was a part of it, also received a hefty sum — and needed it.

      A football or hockey program would cost considerably more. Most team sports would also cost more, though any that only required one or two coaches could probably be funded with less than $100,000, not accounting for scholarships. (My school didn’t give athletic scholarships out, to my knowledge, and it really didn’t impact our ability to compete — several of our teams were good, and at least for a couple seasons, our football team was pretty dominant, if memory serves.)

      Beyond transportation costs and having a few more professional coaches on the team, it shouldn’t be that much more expensive to run a college athletics team than the high school version of the sport.

      I don’t really consider scholarships a very large cost for an institution, because it shouldn’t cost an institution that much to give out athletic scholarships. If, say, a college gave out 100-200 athletic scholarships and had, say, 10,000 students, it wouldn’t really cost much, if anything, for those students to take classes… since the college wouldn’t have to higher any extra professors or administrators or even janitors to teach and service them.

      The only thing the school would really cost is food, and even that can be contracted in with the food service provider, (ie, “You want the right to serve our students? Fine. You pay for our scholarships. Here’s a pen — now write that in the contract.”)

      So, aside from the extra few coaches, and not counting scholarships, the goal should be to make sure it doesn’t cost much more for the college than having the program would for a high school.

      Finally, making the athletes themselves pay for the program is an atrocious idea. It would mean only the very richest would be able to play college sports — and very likely mean only a handful of colleges — period — could afford to have them.

      The year I graduated from high school, athletic fees went from $50 to something like $350, because of budget cuts — and that was per sport! Sports were almost cancelled for the year, which could have been forever. At times in high school I played as much as 3 sports.

      Had the cost been $350, there was no way I would have been able to afford it. Colleges would no doubt have to charge student athletes upwards of thousands of dollars to play at that level, if it had to self fund, and that’s just not right — particularly since out of fairness a team like cross country, which is dirt cheap to fund, would have to charge the same as a football or hockey program… which are incredibly expensive. (Particularly hockey, which even at the high school level, costs hundreds of thousands a year… because of rink time.)

      These should be more modest events than what they are today, at a more reasonable cost. But it’s completely unreasonable to expect student athletes to self fund, and students at these schools would be far worse without having any of them.

      RyansTake   @   Tue 19 Feb 12:14 PM
      • gah,

        I should have edited that. Some of it was a rambling mess, but I hope my main points were clear.

        RyansTake   @   Tue 19 Feb 12:17 PM
      • I suppose I could live with parity with other student clubs.

        I’m hugely biased about this because I’m not the least bit interested and it seems to be very similar to my huge pet peeve about professional athletes making outrageous sums for a job that requires little to no formal education. So while I can understand the argument about charging participants putting it out of financial reach for some, in this particular context I’m finding it difficult to care, not so much because I tolerate unfairness as because it would not bother me in the least if those sports programs did not exist at all.

        Colleges and universities are supposed to be educational institutions first and foremost. The other clubs and activities you mentioned I would have a much easier time arguing are part of the expanded educational experience than sports are. Priorities too often get turned upside down because sports are seen as money makers, but I still say that money that is made should be what subsidizes participation fees. We hear all the time about scholarships, often full for student athletes, but where was my full boat for band, or debate, or quiz bowl, all of which I could easily argue are more in line with an educational mission than sports? In public school, private school, and college my experience was that athletics never seemed to hurt for money and the things in which I was involved and interested suffered as a result. Sports teams should be treated no differently than any other campus student organization.

        • Schools suffer when there isn't a sense of community

          and part of having a sense of community is creating atmospheres where students are free to pursue their interests.

          My cousin went to Union College in NY because he loved hockey. He wasn’t good enough to play in their nationally-recognized program, but he was good enough to play on their (still competitive) club hockey team. He loves the fact that Union lives and breathes hockey.

          It’s why he’s there, even if he’s studying economics.

          There should be more parity between athletes and non athletes, and between sports and clubs. Sports programs should be more modest, with budgets that provide for the needs of the students playing the sports, but not much more.

          But, quite frankly, I think your real thoughts on the matter — that somehow athletics aren’t valuable, IMO because it seems you just don’t ‘get’ them — is counterproductive.

          To have that strong sense of community at any college, students have to be free to be able to pursue their interests… even if their interests are sports. Students are cows at a livestock farm. They’re human beings with needs, wants and interests — and any college worth its salt is going to address those needs, wants and interests.

          We don’t need to have exorbitant athletic budgets at colleges to do that, but we have to make sure these programs are there and that students can feel free to participate in them at whatever level their talent allows, even if that’s merely as a fan, should that be their interest.

          RyansTake   @   Tue 19 Feb 10:02 PM
          • I assume you meant to say...

            “Students are NOT cows at a livestock farm”? I’m fine with sports as one set of interests among many, but that should not be the identity of any school. Colleges by definition should live and breath academics, not hockey as you describe Union.

            • my point is

              that through living and breathing other things, they can also live and breath academics.

              RyansTake   @   Wed 20 Feb 12:05 AM
  2. To me,

    it’s not any one individual college to blame, it’s the system. The NCAA knows what’s going on; it should do something about it. Dramatic cost cutting should go on across the system, and all TV deals should be across the board ‘revenue sharing’ a la the NFL.

    It should be noted that the division UMASS Lowell will now be playing in is very different than UMASS Amherst. There’s various flavors to Division 1, so a lot of Division 1 teams actually feel a lot more like division 2.

    Still, the same could have been said about Northeastern and BU in the divisions they played, and both schools shut down their football programs because of the dramatic expense — and those were private institutions, charging $40+K for students to attend there, when they did it.

    Personally, I think we should all treat college athletics a lot like we treat high school athletics. Sure, the communities should get pumped and excited and it should be a fun thing to do for people on campus and in the region. However, it should NOT be like the NFL. We should NOT be treating the kids — yes, kids — involved in these programs as anything but very busy college students.

    Academics should be the first and foremost priority in all of the programs, and the NCAA should demand these programs graduate 85%+ of their students, or that’s it.

    The NCAA should also be guarding against programs investing too heavily into programs, forcing other schools to try to desperately play catch up, which hurts the students at that school. It should also stop the days of when athletes are treated like gods on campus, given the best housing and access to facilities, and instead forcing all students to be treated as equally as possible — the same housing, the same or similar access to facilities, etc.

    I think having college athletics is a very important part of the college experience, and every school should have a full range of teams, including football. However, the investments into these programs should be rather modest, and should be tightly controlled, so no one school can put in more than another.

    Moreover, the days of flashing these kids’ names and faces on the TV screen should be over, and at the very least the money from all these TV contracts and bowl games should be divied out evenly to ensure that all schools have additional outside resources to pay for their athletic programs.

    RyansTake   @   Tue 19 Feb 11:48 AM
    • To push back a bit

      and I push back first stating that I think Ryan has, by and large, a very healthy view of college athletics…. but:

      Academics should be the first and foremost priority in all of the programs, and the NCAA should demand these programs graduate 85%+ of their students, or that’s it.

      Most state colleges don’t graduate anywhere near 85% of their student body within 6 years of enrollment [or ever, actually]. There’s lots of reasons for that — they aren’t as selective but their academic standards are still solid, their public nature requires lower barriers to entry, their lower tuition [relatively!] results in a larger fraction of students with unstable finances, etc etc. If a university has a 60% graduation rate, what should their college athletes be graduating at — kids who, in addition to a full course load [a light full course load perhaps, but still full] are at practice 20 hours per week, have 1-2 matches per week [figure 4-6 hour event for home games including local travel, warm-ups, etc etc], have 0-1 away matches per week [figure a whole day, if not 2]. Sure, they’ve got extra tutoring in many cases, and assistant coaches etc who give them a friendly ‘shove’ to keep their grades up, and it’s true — they don’t have part time jobs.

      I dated a D1 varsity athlete in college. She was really smart, and her grades were good. She understood — and helped me understand — that college athletes that aren’t really smart (relative to the student body at large) have a really tough time earning Bs or better. Just too much demands on their time.

      Personally, I think that football should be limited to a set percentage of the athletic budget. Lots of different ways to get at that, but it could be done. Doing so would water down the incentives to donate to the football program — locker rooms, indoor (!) practice fields, weight rooms, etc etc. But the problem is that if you put in limits now, the teams which have already spent the money [Texas, Michigan, USC, Notre Dame, etc] will have advantages that nobody else would even be allowed to build, even if they’ve got some $100M donation sitting around. It’s a tough nut to crack.

      Conferences do revenue sharing for TV and bowl games, but I’d like to see it shared a bit more widely than that. I’d also like to see more and better seats for the student body at the games… they should at least get that advantage. Lots of changes would be nice, but it’s hard to find a set of rules that works for BC and Notre Dame [two private Catholic northern schools with vastly different D1 football programs], no less University of Texas and Trinity (TX).

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