Monday, November 24, 2008

Excellence and Exploitation in Intercollegiate Athletics

By Richard Vedder, Matthew Denhart and Robert Villwock

The naming of Myron Rolle and Chris Joseph as Rhodes Scholars shows that players on big-time college football teams can excel both athletically and academically. Rolle currently plays at Florida State, and Joseph graduated from UCLA. Congratulations to these fine men for an extraordinary achievement. Athletic competition can promote excellence and leadership, and this is a fine example of that.

But there is a dark side to intercollegiate athletics. Consider the following statistic, derived from Dan Fulks' statistics for the NCAA in 2006. For every one dollar spent on student scholarship assistance, $1.95 was spent on salaries and benefits for coaches, athletic administrators and support staff. If an NFL or NBA team spent 1.95 times as much on coaches salaries, the general manager's compensation, and that of other employees as they did on the players, it would not be around for very long.

Top college athletes are typically paid vastly less than the value of their marginal product --what they add to the revenue stream of athletic departments (this is true only at the top football/basketball schools to be sure). They do it because it is required by professional leagues, provides training for pro play later, or, in some cases, because the students genuinely crave a college degree, which they think they will need after their athletic career is over. And most of them have no realistic professional athletic prospects. Money that in a competitive market would go to the players goes for other things --but largely the salaries of coaches. Adults are exploiting children, albeit older children and sometimes even young adults. The better athletes leave early to go to the pros --$1 million a year in pay beats, say, $15,000 (or whatever the value of the grant-in-aid).

But what concerns us also are the negative spillover effects of downplaying academics for the sake of athletics. Colleges take in students who do not belong, who are good athletes but poor students. Is that right and appropriate? Then they give them a schedule of activities (games, practice, conditioning) that makes studying all but impossible, with games scheduled in examination weeks, practices during class hours, etc. So exploit them financially and set them up to fail academically, meanwhile sending a message to everyone "academics is fairly important, but sports trump everything." A bad message to send.

To be sure, we are speaking here of the Gang of 119 --the big NCAA football powers --not the average liberal arts college or even the smaller state schools. We are not talking about either the Ivy League or community colleges. And we are the first to argue --as we did at the beginning of this blog --that we love sports, we enjoy watching games ourselves, and that there are some real benefits of athletics in terms of developing leadership and character. But all things need to be done in moderation, and we are beyond moderation in intercollegiate athletics.

Richard Vedder directs CCAP and teaches at Ohio University, where both Matthew Denhart and Robert Villwock are undergraduate students and CCAP research associates.


Cowboy said...

Off topic - I sure would like to know where all these CEO's running the companies who have received taxpayer bailouts went to school.

I wonder if CCAP would be willing to publish this info or advise if it is available and where.

Matt - Take Dr. Vedder's advice. If you should meet Kofi Anan while you are in Ghana, and you should happen to shake hands with him - count your fingers.

Cowboy said...

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

When I was in High School, we practiced before school and after school. We missed classes on some Fridays if we had to travel a great distance whether it was for football on Friday nights or swim meets on Staturday. I don't know how much it affected my grades.

In college, football and basketball players missed what I thought were a lot of classes. Most of them were HPER majors (Health, Physical Education, and Recreation), so I don't think it really mattered much. But the two you cite in your blog are definitely noteworthy.

I'm pretty sure one of the guys from the development department referred to HPER majors as HHS majors in one of my previous visits. I may be wrong, but I think they call themselves Health and Human Services majors now - it does sound much better. Kind of like a chrome plated terd. But everybody has a place in life I suppose.

An area that has inspired my interest is the speed of the evolution of technology with regard to what is taught in Higher Ed institutions - excluding for profit, on-line studies.

Take a number of majors affected by the rapid evolution of technology and innovation. In these cases, what a student learns as a freshman becomes, to an extent, irrelevant. In fact I'm going to send something I received from an in-law that touches on this concept.

In closing, this blog and the Coach:President ratios are two very informative blogs.