Thursday, October 04, 2007

Perverted Priorities

By Jim Coleman

The Austin American-Statesman recently ran a series of articles investigating sports spending at the University of Texas. The articles highlight the perverted priorities which are increasingly embraced by public universities.

According the Statesman, the University of Texas’ Athletic department will spend a record breaking budget of $107.6 million to support its athletic programs, which consist of just 511 athletes. That is an average expenditure per athlete of $211,000. What makes this worse is where some of the money goes. For every football home game, $20,000 is spent so players can sleep at a local hotel. In 2005, $ 200,000 was spent renovating the football locker room. Improvements included leather recliners, big screen projectors, and flat screen TVs. An average of $3,500 of per athlete is spent on tutoring players, that is special tutoring above and beyond what non-athletic in-state students get for their $8,000 tuition. Every year the Athletic department charters about 20 private flights at $90,000 each. Finally, over the past five years, the athletic department has committed nearly a billion dollars in expenditures for constructing and renovating facilities.

Prima facie, the athletic spending at UT looks fairly high, especially when broken down into per athlete expenditures, but what really makes these numbers pop out is how they compare to UT’s academic expenditures . For the 2006-2007 school year, UT had a core academic budget of 974 million dollars. This money funded salaries, building maintenance, utilities, scholarships, and basically everything else needed to provide the students with the academic resources they needed. Dividing the academic expenditures by the number of enrolled students for that year, 49,697; yields an average academic expenditure per student of $19, 598; a paltry sum when compared to athletic expenditures per athlete. The numbers are even worse when one takes into account the $19,598 is financed largely by students in the form of tuition and handed back to them in the form of university services. They pay to learn, while student athletes do not pay to play (one might even go as far to say that the student athletes at UT are PAID to play in the form of very generous fringe benefits).

This brief review of UT’s spending habits highlights a growing trend among many public universities. Public schools, whose primary mission is to offer affordable higher education, are increasingly willing to forgo academic improvement and affordability in favor of athletic name recognition. It is ludicrous and irresponsible for a university to spend over 200 grand per student athlete, while non-athletic students are forced into debt in order to complete their education. A large portion of the money that UT spends on its athletes would be better spent on making UT’s academic programs more affordable and of higher quality. From an economic standpoint, it is hard to fathom that the marginal returns on the football team’s leather recliners and flat screen TVs are higher than the returns to be had from making college affordable enough that students don’t have to take out loans just to buy books.

I imagine that there are two canned and impotent objections that people will have to this blog. First, they might argue that these athletic expenditures are good business for the university, because good athletics yield high name recognition, which increase enrollment, which ultimately yields more academic funds. There may be some truth to this argument, but UT should have all the name recognition it needs in virtue of being a division I school. The expenditures discussed here are simply excessive. I would conjecture any benefits the school derives from sports expenditures are exhausted long before the 200 grand per athlete mark is ever reached. Second, one might argue, as UT indeed does, that since the athletic programs are largely self-supporting the numbers I cite are not particularly important. Absurd. The point of a public university is to provide affordable education. UT’s own mission statement reads, “The mission of The University of Texas at Austin is to achieve excellence in the interrelated areas of undergraduate education, graduate education, research and public service.” I fail to see how a self-supporting athletics program is exempt from this mission statement. The athletics department is part of UT and hence subservient to UT’s super objective, education. Consequently, if revenues brought in from athletics can be better spent on lowering tuition and strengthening the curriculum by all means that is what a university has a responsibility to do.

Jim Coleman is a philosophy and economics undergraduate at Ohio University and a Research Associate ("Whiz Kid") at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

7 comments:

keith said...

Great article...just disgusting how much waste there is and how much they spend on these athletes but it's all just recruiting ploys..kids like the flat screens and sign, hurts us even more at www.recruitcity.com as we know how hard the kids work to try and get financial support for all of the other sports....

Analyticsdude said...

Consequently, if revenues brought in from athletics can be better spent on lowering tuition and strengthening the curriculum by all means that is what a university has a responsibility to do.

Left out of your analysis is the source of all that athletic money and whether or not spending it in the way you suggest would lead to declines in that revenue.

TC said...

Dude,

Click on the "articles" link.

Great blog Jim.

Analyticsdude said...

Dude, the "articles" link is lacking the details. But there is enough to speculate and my original point still stands. Does anyone really think that wealthy fans would continue to contribute enormous sums if those dollars were mostly funneled to academic programs? These people are essentially paying to have winning teams (esp. winning football and basketball teams), not superior biology departments. If someone attempted to force that money elsewhere it would simply dry up. This is a lot of hand waving for nothing.

I think university sports - at least the major sports - should separate from the academic side all together and officially become what they really are - professional minor league teams. The major sports in DI schools are no longer part of the academic mission but people are too tied emotionally to their teams.

TC said...

analyticsDUDE -

"Left out of your analysis is the source of all that athletic money and whether or not spending it in the way you suggest would lead to declines in that revenue."

I agree with your point that funds from fans and alumni would decrease if UT’s team was terrible. But does it really take all that money to make a football team good? No, I’ll point to OSU (as the article did) to make that point. Good players make good teams and UT’s football team neither needs nor deserves all the luxuries and special treatment that Joe Sixpack and Abdullah Oblongata does not get for the same (or higher) price. I do not believe the majority of the funding for UT comes from "wealthy fans". None-the-less, if you believe that if "the money were forced elsewhere it (the money) would simply dry up". Then how do you explain OSU - a perennial powerhouse? They almost always excel in football on half the budget. Tressel himself states that academics come before athletics.

If one assumes that higher education is in the business of educating, then I don't believe this is a lot of hand-waving for nothing. It’s rather disgusting in fact. Could UT or OSU raise tuition cost just because they have a good football team? Maybe. But then a candidate for college would look at other schools - not everyone goes to particular colleges just because they have good football teams (I site myself as a case in point) - that would be pretty narrow thinking unless one is an athlete. A lot of people go to Ivy League schools and their football teams pretty much suck in comparison to the Big 12, Big 10 (+1), SEC, PAC 10, etc.

BTW – (off-topic) A friend of mine has a daughter that applied to Purdue. They accepted her AND they gave her a scholarship. Yep, they gave her a golf scholarship. Only problem is that she has never played golf. So I guess you could say she got a Title 9 scholarship.

Analyticsdude said...

It is irrelevant whether or not it takes that much money or luxury items to have a good team. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. It's an opinion, not a fact.

UT apparently thinks so and they choose to spend the money that way and apparently the people funding it have no problem with the spending. It's their money to give to the athletic department as they see fit. If someone then steps in and says "no, that money has to go to academics" it will stop flowing at the same rate.

What we have here are some people disgusted with the way other people spend their money. I'd suggest that you don't donate to UT and that you don't send your kids to UT and that if you live in Texas you pressure the state to stop funding UT, but beyond that, it's really not your business or mine. Should we have laws preventing people from spending money in stupid ways?

TC said...

"It is irrelevant whether or not it takes that much money or luxury items to have a good team. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. It's an opinion, not a fact."

I wholeheartedly disagree that the money spent on athletics versus education is irrelevant. In fact that is a thoughtless statement. How many of those athletes at Texas are going to have a career in football?

Furthermore, it is not an opinion - it is a cold hard fact that the amount of money spent at Texas does not produce a good team. Texas' budget on football has resulted in a 23rd ranked football team. For half the money, OSU is ranked 3rd.

Texas is spending money in a senseless manner. Is that opinion or sensible observation?

"UT apparently thinks so and they choose to spend the money that way and apparently the people funding it have no problem with the spending. It's their money to give to the athletic department as they see fit."

You make it sound as though all the money Texas receives comes out of the pockets of private donors when this is not the case. And if it were all donor money - I'd have to say Texas football fans are foolish boobs.

"If someone then steps in and says "no (sic), that money has to go to academics" it will stop flowing at the same rate.

Now this is opinion. It is a hypothetical and unsubstantiated. It assumes that all people who donate dollars to go toward athletics would absolutely not be willing to donote money to education. My opinion is that you underestimate the good will of donors and you don't understand the way people who have the money to donate think.

"What we have here are some people disgusted with the way other people spend their money."

You are absolutely right. It is an indicator of where our society's priorities are; and I guess there must be a lot of people out there that think colleges and universities should spend more money on moving a pigskin ball back and forth then producing smart citizens to continue our high standard of living and world leadership.

"...it's really not your business or mine. Should we have laws preventing people from spending money in stupid ways?"

Not my business? What if some 300 lb iron head, HPER major that is part of a system that squanders money for no good reason ends up teaching kids or somehow makes his way into our congress (which has apparently already happened many times over)? And for the athlete, what is going to happen to him when he graduates and all the special treatment and luxuries come to an end?

"Should we have laws preventing people from spending money in stupid ways?"

For congress the answer is an affirmative "yes". In other matters that come to mind at the moment the answer is "no". What we should have is smart, responsible people.

Standing on the sidelines passively or indifferently and ignoring problems is no way to go through life.

This subject is a dead horse for me.