By Richard Vedder
When budgets get squeezed, there is a tendency for various constituencies in universities to start to war with one another, trying to preserve their own share of resources by favoring reductions in the budget of others. That is a huge reason, but far from the only one, behind the growing campus rebellion against big-time college sports.
USA TODAY revealed football coaches salaries at big time schools are continuing to rise rapidly, even at Cal Berkeley, a school in the midst of truly real and large budget cuts. It is also becoming obvious that many athletic programs are now running huge and growing deficits. Faculty at Berkeley are seething over the literally tens of millions of dollars of heretofore unrevealed subsidies (in the form of "loans') to the athletic program. The Faculty have formally condemned the move. Across the country, academics and university administrators are starting to say "enough is enough."
At Ohio University, it was revealed by the student newspaper that the Athletic Department, already subsidized about $14 million a year (maybe 4 percent of the total core budget), was bailed out, again, for well over a million dollars, by raiding student fees designed for health services --while the old health center crumbles. 10 percent cuts for academic units are being seriously discussed, and plans are afoot to eliminate several programs --while expanding athletics. The football team, less pathetic than usual this year, wants to go to a bowl game --any game--and the University appears ready to subsidize that venture (there is no way my school will get into a bowl game that produces real revenues) if necessary, apparently even if it means laying off staff.
I have said it before, so I will say it again. You have to fight cartels with other cartels. University presidents that have guts, admittedly an endangered specie, should get together --a large number of them, and propose an alternative to the current system. Roughly, athletics should return to where they were in 1950. Football teams should be smaller (say 60 persons), play 9-10 games a year, and players should be eligible for three years of play --no freshman playing. No redshirting. No mid-week football games, or games during exam periods. Similar shortening of baseball and basketball schedules is desirable. Make athletes into real students again. Ban weight conditioning programs. Limit the number of coaches. Tax universities that pay their coaches more than X times the average salary of full professors or the university president. Remove tax exemptions for athletic facility construction beyond some basic level. Allow student votes on use of so-called activity fees that often prop up the athletic programs. Ban hotel rooms for athletes when playing home games. Maybe even forbid federally funded colleges from subsidizing athletics more than one or two percent of core financial resources. The list can go on and on. Don't ban college sports. People enjoyed college sports 50-60 years ago as well --when budgets were smaller and most athletics were genuinely students as well. Or, if the current madness is going to continue, the presidents at least should impose a hefty tax on television and other revenues, end the independence of athletic departments, etc., etc., etc. DO SOMETHING!!!
Most presidents are afraid to touch this. In unity (many presidents acting together), however, there is strength. It is time for action.