Monday, January 08, 2007

Football Champions Are Not Academic Champions

By Richard Vedder,

Let us start this 150th CCAP post by paying homage to the national championship football game tonight between Ohio State and Florida. Both universities historically have had so-so academic reputations but have worked hard, with some success, in improving it. Indeed, both have argued they need more funds in order to fund national excellence. Ohio State, for example, has received in some years partial special dispensation from tuition caps imposed on other state institutions. Both schools, believe, however, that big time football contributes to making them better academically, for example by improving the number of applicants for admission and thereby institutional selectivity.

But Columbus Dispatch columnist Mike Harden points out the corrupting side of big time athletics. Licensing vendors to sell merchandise with the school logo on it is big business. A win tonight for OSU is estimated to net a minimum of $3 million more in the next year for that institution. One Ohio State vendor had made a good business selling tee shirts and other OSU stuff for years, giving eight percent of receipts to Ohio State as a licensing fee. Then word came that OSU was going to sign an exclusive contract with Nike, giving them sole licensing rights. The small vendor complained loudly and publicly. The result? He was given a registered letter saying "You no longer can sell our merchandise." Now. And, inferentially, he was told that people you supply who make a living selling the merchandise retail are hurt too.

This shows that Ohio State does not care much for freedom of expression when it might hurt them. It shows an arrogance, a "public be damned" attitude. It shows support for a big Oregon corporation over little Ohio businesses. I have nothing against Nike, and, indeed, I have frequently defended it against complaints from anti-globalization critics that it is a "sweatshop" employer. OSU maybe should give Nike some franchising business, if not a monopoly. But all of this reeks a little of cruelty and arrogance. OSU might have the best college football team in the nation, but the vendor episode suggests that it lacks civility, class, and an appreciation for the values that are the rationale for public support. A truly great school (Harvard?) probably would not do this -- I hope.

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