Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Reforming Intercollegiate Athletics

By Richard Vedder

The Columbus Dispatch did a great piece of investigative reporting, asking all 119 top NCAA schools to provide information about various practices and infractions of rules. Very few schools complied, and some tried to charge the paper outrageous amounts (around $38,000, I believe, by the University of Maryland) for the information.

Athletic Departments are autonomous of administrations at most universities. They have virtually no accountability, other than some broad budgetary constraints. At my school, the athletic department routinely runs huge budget deficits --and gets away with it, something impossible in the rest of the institution. NCAA data confirms that more and more institutions are subsidizing athletics from general funds, funds that are often shrinking in real terms. Sports are crowding out academics.

The call for reform is rising, however. The Centennial Conference, representing a number of small eastern liberal arts colleges, did something neat. Realizing that athletic conferences are, after all, legalized cartels, the university presidents got together and agreed on some cost savings --reducing travelling squads, even taking portable microphones away from officials, etc. Two arch rivals, the University of Michigan and Ohio State, agreed between themselves to eliminate the expensive ($250,000) annual media guide about their teams. They appealed to other Big Ten schools to follow.

Why doesn't Joe White of Illinois, tarnished by the scandal over admissions discussed in an earlier blog, Gordon Gee of Ohio State, and/or other Big Ten presidents get together and unilaterally announce they are taking certain cost saving moves, and call upon other major conferences to do the same? Examples: reduce traveling squads, reduce the length of seasons and number of games in sports like baseball, eliminate media guides, put limits on the number of assistant coaches, perhaps put limits on coach salaries, etc., etc. If the prestigious Big Ten can do it, it might be able to convince some other conferences with serious academic schools, such as the Pac 10, to follow suit, perhaps ultimately pressuring all conferences to follow. Another approach would be for the Big Ten Presidents to convene a meeting of all major university presidents -- outside the NCAA rubric -- and plan proposed changes. If the NCAA balks, form a new organization not dominated by jocks and athletic directors.

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