Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Shock the Jocks

By Richard Vedder

A better than decent case can be made that the NCAA is a more invidious anti-competitive cartel than, say, the Standard Oil Trust of John D. Rockefeller, the Tobacco Trust of James B. Duke, the alleged (although in my judgment fictitious) Microsoft monopoly, etc. The NCAA monitors a system of exploiting thousands of workers (e.g., athletes); it has promoted a decline in emphasis on academics; its rules and regulations leads to graft, corruption and a decline in respect for higher education, etc., etc. I don't even like the NCAA telling teams that their mascots or nicknames are inappropriate. In short, the NCAA, by and large, sucks.

But worst of all, the NCAA presides over a crowding-out of academic activities by athletics in a way totally out of proportion with what is justified on any cost-benefit calculus. I will use my own university, Ohio University, as an example.

The core budget for the main campus for the coming year is about $400 million. The athletic budget is around $18 million, but the program loses $15 million since attendance is spotty and television revenues are all but non-existent. If the university spent just 1 percent of its budget of athletic subsidies, it could give 1,000 more students full-time scholarships annually --even allowing for the fact that some of the athletic subsidy provides scholarship assistance for athletics. In order to appease a few old alums whose contribution to the university outside of athletics is marginal at best, we engage in costly subsidization that does little to attract admissions, outside funds, etc. Although Ohio University is above average in its irrational fanaticism, it is by no means alone.

The Centennial Conference is begging the NCAA to delay implementation of a requirement that football officials have portable microphones, and that basketball shot clocks have tenth of seconds readings. For some schools, that means perhaps $10,000 in added expenses at a time where schools are furloughing workers and battling budget deficits. It is time for some schools to just say no to the NCAA and engage in what in national politics would be called nullification --a rejection of the NCAA mandates.

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