[Paleopsych] Inside Higher Ed: The Enemy Is Us: Cost Reduction in College Sports

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Reality Check: The Enemy Is Us: Cost Reduction in College Sports
January 31, 2005

    By [10]John V. Lombardi

    You have to love university people.Their leaders meet, wring their
    hands over the high cost of big-time football, and form a committee of
    themselves to consider how to deal with this problem; as if there were
    new as yet undiscovered solutions. Their trade organization for
    sports, the NCAA, issues ringing statements about the high cost of
    superstar coaches and endorses a committee composed of those who hire
    superstar coaches to address the issue. It is a spectacle worthy of

    We who watch all this as participants or observers recognize the
    activity as a spectator sport itself; designed to entertain, amuse and
    confuse. Here is our mini-FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions on big money
    college sports (based on our experience and the analysis of the
    research university sports enterprise in [11]The Sports Imperative
    (TheCenter, 2003).

    Q: How did coaches' salaries get so high?

    A: About a dozen or maybe a few more big-time basketball and football
    coaches have exceptionally high salaries in the range of $1 million a
    year. The rest of them work for about half as much or less in Division
    I-A, have long hours, and enjoy relatively little job security. For
    all of these coaches, if they don't win, they get fired.

    Q: Who is responsible for the super coach salaries in basketball and

    A: The run-up of superstar salaries began with basketball coaches who
    were the first to hit the $1 million mark. The superstar football
    coaches wanted be paid as much as their basketball colleagues, so the
    race was on.

    Q: Why don't universities pay superstar coaches less and put the money
    into teaching?

    A: Most big-money coaches have a base salary in the $200K to $300K
    range, and the additional $900K to $1M comes from income earned
    through shoe contracts, television shows, endorsements and booster
    contributions, all funds generated outside the university based on the
    coach's fame and success. The companies and boosters who pay for these
    salaries have no interest in supporting teaching.

    Q: Are these Division I-A football programs making lots of money?

    A: Maybe five in the country make money (if you could get them to
    report their income and expenses honestly and fully). The other 112 or
    so lose money; some lose a great deal of money.

    Q: What can the universities do to reduce the cost of football?

    A: Reduce the number of football scholarships awarded for each team
    from 85 to 65.

    Q: Why don't university presidents do that?

    A: There are not enough high talent football players to fill 85 spots
    on the 119 teams struggling to compete in Division I-A. The schools
    with the most money to spend on coaches, stadiums, and amenities can
    attract 85 super players with the scholarships, leaving the poor
    schools unable to recruit as many superb players. Talent is what
    matters in sports, and with 85 scholarships, the top schools can
    monopolize much of the talent leaving less for their competitors.

    This is good news for the top schools. If the top schools only had 65
    scholarships, 20 superb players who might have gone to each of the top
    schools would have to go to a lesser Division I-A university. Some of
    these lesser Division I-A institutions, with the help of the 20
    talented players, would then field competitive football teams,
    threatening the dominance of the institutions currently at the top.
    The presidents of the top schools, whose football programs please
    their alumni and trustees, do not vote to save money by reducing the
    number of scholarships from 85 to 65. A further benefit of this
    scholarship reduction would be an improvement in the opportunities for
    men's sports previously eliminated to meet gender equity requirements.
    If there are 20 fewer scholarships in football, men's wrestling and
    gymnastics could now have scholarships without any need  to eliminate
    women's sports.

    Q. Who is responsible for the high cost, high visibility nature of
    intercollegiate sports?

    A: You are. Every time you or your family or friends watch a college
    game on television, buy college apparel with logos, purchase a ticket
    to the game, or otherwise participate in a college sports activity,
    you vote for the current system because the current system reflects
    the active and engaged enthusiasm of Americans for their college

    Q: Why don't trustees bring this expensive waste of money in big-time
    football and basketball into line?

    A: Trustees generally like sports, know people who like sports, talk
    to alumni and students who like sports, and believe it is their duty
    to insist that their institutions have strong sports programs.

    Q: Why don't university presidents speak out against the superstar
    coaching salaries?

    A: They often speak out, but only after they are no longer president.
    Then they join commissions and speak against the behaviors they
    supported and endorsed as president. Private university presidential
    total compensation now approaches that of superstar coaches. If the
    president is closing in on this salary level, it becomes difficult to
    object to well-paid coaches. Presidents of many universities with two
    or three expensive coaches also endorse the payment of faculty
    physicians in their medical schools whose total compensation exceeds
    $800,000 to $1 million per year. Like the coaches, these physicians
    have to earn most of the revenue that supports their high

    Q: Should we worry about this?

    A: Most of the time, no. College sports are a mirror into our own
    expectations and wishes. College sports are very popular among
    parents, students, alumni, legislators, television watchers, to name
    but a few. The very best of America's colleges and universities have a
    tremendous investment in college sports, some of it highly visible in
    big-time football and basketball, some less visible in a broad range
    of expensive sports that generate no revenue at all. Most people
    support this activity at record levels of enthusiasm.

    Q: When should we worry about it?

    A: We should worry when a university or college loses so much money on
    its sports program that it cannot support its academic program, when a
    university competes in Division I-A and does so poorly it must
    subsidize football at great expense from its general funds, and when
    universities and colleges cannot manage their sports programs without
    cheating and scandal. Otherwise, enjoy the game.

    John V. Lombardi, whose column, Reality Check, debuts today, is
    chancellor and a professor of history at the University of


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   10. mailto:lombardi at umass.edu
   11. http://thecenter.ufl.edu/TheSportsImperative.pdf

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