Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Senatorial Priorities on Higher Education

Robert Villwock

Yesterday afternoon, the Senate Antitrust Committee met to discuss a huge problem in higher education, sort of. The hearing, titled "The Bowl Championship Series: Is it Fair and in Compliance with Antitrust Law," hit on exactly what is wrong with the priorities in higher education.

As a recent study done by CCAP shows, only 18 athletic departments in the NCAA Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision made revenues in excess of expenses in the period 2004-2006.The other 100 athletic departments in the NCAA FBS were cross-subsidized by either cutting the budget of another part of the university, raising tuition to all students (some or most of which don't care about intercollegiate athletics), or adding institutional fees to the tuition of students.

The addition of institutional fees to tuition seems to be the innovative new way to rip students off since some state legislatures have initiated tuition freezes at public state schools.

The real question that Congress should be investigating is the NCAA in general. According to NCAA.org, its core purpose is to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount (defined as 'chief concern or importance').

With that in mind, is the NCAA fulfilling its core purpose to make its educational experience paramount:

- Lower admission standards for athletes
- Subsidize athletics at the cost of other academic ventures
- Hire coaches at a higher salary than the president of the university
- Awarding scholarships to student-athletes who cluster together in the easiest majors to stay eligible
- Red-shirt players, which means essentially putting them in marginal classes for a fifth year to be eligible
- Claim that athletes graduate at a much higher rate than the traditional student when graduation rates are calculated on a much different scale than a traditional student (When measured on the same scale, the graduation rate is nearly identical)
- Allow teams to travel across the country for a match during the school year and allow games to take place during finals week

There are several other instances in which the NCAA does not care whether its providing the best educational experience to its student-athletes.

If the NCAA wants to get real about providing an educational experience to student-athletes, why not let the athletes run the team as is the case in club sports?

A finance major who happens to play football could gain a great deal of educational experience by managing a modest budget given to him by the university. We suspect that a student-run athletics program would generate more school pride and accountability to intercollegiate athletics. A team that ran excess budget deficits would be cut and the deficits would be attributed to mismanagement of allocated funds (rather than given money from the English Department's budget, which is the current situation).

To be sure, I don't think Ohio State University football can be managed by undergraduate finance students, but we do believe that the current NCAA is unsustainable. There needs to be innovative new ways to fund athletics departments rather than figuring out ways to charge traditional students higher tuition.

For example, selling large stadiums to third party companies and leasing them for the 6 home football games would save money on maintenance and upkeep as well as generate revenue from the sale. To a lesser extent, even giving naming rights to the stadium would generate new cash flow.

All of these types of issues should be being discussed by Congress instead of ways to create a playoff system that increases the season by 2 or 3 games thus devaluing the educational purpose of the university even further.

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