[Paleopsych] Inside Higher Ed: The Enemy Is Us: Cost Reduction in College Sports
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Sat Apr 9 17:25:56 UTC 2005
Reality Check: The Enemy Is Us: Cost Reduction in College Sports
January 31, 2005
By 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 The Sports Imperative
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
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
Q. Who is responsible for the high cost, high visibility nature of
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
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
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