By Richard Vedder
Neither presidential candidate said much about higher education in the campaign, other than to lament high college costs and to talk about throwing some more money at the problem. Oh, to be sure, McCain proposed axing Congressional research earmarks, a very good idea. And Obama talked about expanding aid to lower income kids, etc.
On election eve, however, Obama let loose with his first truly substantive proposal --and it was about college football. Let's have a national championship football game. Obama, in effect said: let us professionalize college sports further. Let us ruin the chances of student athletes actually learning anything in school a little more. Let us trivialize the academic function relative to the party/socialization functions of college. In short, I think Obama's idea stinks (as do many university presidents and, I suspect, most faculty).
We should be going in the opposite direction. We can have enthusiastic active teams and good entertainment, but at the same time reassert the priority of the academic function over the athletic one by doing a few things:
1) Limit the length of sessions. Regular seasons should not exceed 10 football games with one bowl game possibility, or 20-22 basketball games with the possibility of the NCAA tournament, nor more than say 35 baseball games played on no more than 22 dates.
2) Limit the size of teams drastically. No more than 60 on a football team --allowing two full offensive, defensive and special team squads, with a third backup for a few vital positions, like quarterback. Likewise, no more than 60 scholarships. Similar restrictions in other sports.
3) Prohibit weekday football games and limit those contests in other sports to a minimum. Absolutely prohibit contests during final examination week.
4) End red shirting and other practices that treat academic matters as secondary. A student has four years of eligibility from the time he/she matriculates at a college.
5) Toughen academic standards for athletes even further.
6) Limit athletic subsidies to one percent of the university budget excluding other auxiliary enterprises.
7) I hate setting wages administratively, but the NCAA, to help deal with #6 above might want to limit any coach/athletic director's salary (including camps, etc) to 90percent of that of the University president and three times that of the median of the top 25 paid professors). For example, if the president is paid $600,000, and the highest paid professors are paid $200,000, the football coach's salary could not exceed $540,000.
8) Create a new universal rule: all athletic revenues derived belong to the university as a whole, for distribution using standard university budget procedures. The athletic department would cease to be a separate empire onto itself.
Might there be a very slight reduction in the quality of play? Perhaps. Would the competition be as fun as ever? Yes. Would television be able to get enough games, and would sponsors still pay a fortune for television rights? Probably, and if they don't, tough. Let the couch potatoes watch pro sports or, horrors of horrors, read a book. What is good for ESPN is not necessarily good for the country.