College Athletics

CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
There was a tangent over at the College Admissions Scandal 2019 thread over the appropriateness of college athletics. Since one of the main points of the scandal was that students with no athletic experience were being given admission slots reserved for athletes and were not expected to participate in athletics it seemed beside the point. However, since it did generate a lot of discussion I thought a thread on college athletics in general might be warranted.

On the one hand @stonespring argues that athletics are an overlarge part of American academic institutions.
Is there any other country in the world where universities both public and private, world-class research institutions and less-academically distinguished ones, rely on athletic programs to generate a large part of their income, prestige, and appeal to potential students (including students who do not intend to even pretend to be athletes)?

@Moo takes the contrary position, arguing that college athletic departments as currently constituted in the U.S. are a net benefit to their colleges and university.
Moo wrote: »
Virginia Tech has a very large athletic program. I used to think it was a poor allocation of resources, but I learned a few facts that changed my mind. First, the athletic department pays for itself. Second, it means that people all over the country have heard of Tech. It makes it much easier to recruit faculty and students.

Tech has outstanding agriculture and engineering schools. Tech scientist were involved in the cloning of Dolly the sheep, and the engineering school helped develop drones. (One of the first uses of drones was to have them fly low over crop fields taking pictures to see whether there were any problems.

Virginia Tech is in the boonies. If it weren't for the sports programs far fewer people would have heard of it.

A few points. Virginia Tech's athletic program does pay for itself . . . sometimes:
Virginia Tech’s annual financial report filed to the NCAA this month shows the athletic department operating with a surplus of $4.8 million.

It’s the first time since 2014-15 the department generated a surplus. The department had a $3.2 million deficit last year.

<snip>

The biggest areas of year-to-year growth for Virginia Tech were in ticket sales (up from $17.3 to $19.4), contributions (up from $15.6 to $22.1) and media rights (up from $22.4 to $25.2). It’s the first time since 2007 the department brought in more than $20 million in contributions and most money the department has generated in ticket sales.

So in some years the athletic program covers its own expenses and in other years it operates at a loss, even when voluntary contributions specifically to the athletic program are factored in.

I'd like to point out that despite breaking even from the perspective of the college, college athletics are a $1 billion/year business in the U.S. A lot of people make a lot of money from college athletics, which is why the highest paid public officials in many states are football coaches. The one exception to this are the athletes themselves, who do not earn salaries from their efforts (aside from whatever scholarships are offered to them) and are forbidden from doing anything to earn outside money from their connection to their sport. Colleges can sell their likenesses to video game companies, but if the athletes sell an autographed picture of themselves that's enough to get them kicked off the team (and have their scholarship revoked). It should be noted that this standard only seems to apply to college athletes. Colleges don't seem to forbid music majors, for example, producing and selling CDs of their own music, even if they're attending college on a music scholarship.

The biggest NCAA revenue generator is, as expected, American football. Given the health risks involved it seems fairly unjustified. It's essentially using unpaid interns to give each other concussions for the amusement of a crowd. In any non-academic context I suspect we'd find that appalling.

Thoughts?
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Comments

  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    There is a move to require college sports programs to pay their athletes. It is gaining some traction in the courts now.
  • Like the OP, I'm horrified that educational institutions continue to promote sports programs that destroy student brains.

  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    Sport at university is for recreation and procreation, IMHO. Athletic programs are bullshit, and I have the gut to prove it.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    Like the OP, I'm horrified that educational institutions continue to promote sports programs that destroy student brains.
    This has been my concern since I became aware of the research. The fact coaches are paid (to me) exorbitant salaries while students are left penniless does not sit well with me.

    I also believe the number of students who will actually make a career of it, given the large number of tertiary institutions in the US with sports programmes, is miniscule. But the fact they get an education I assume helps them somewhat -- but I do wonder on the emotional/mental toll of being big in your university and then "nothing" in a national competition.

    I am someone without a sporting bone in my body. I can barely hit a T-ball on a stand. But I am in awe of what (I read) US college athletes do. The training and the intensity and all they do to keep their place...

    The power of college athletics was brought home to me in that story from a few years ago about the Missouri college president (?) who stepped down after players threatened a boycott of a basketball game after some racist incidents on campus if he did not resign. Odd it took that...but I may be misremembering other pertinent details. But good on them for using their power.

    I know I'm a stark-raving-mad socialist in US terms, but it would be nice if, everywhere, universities and colleges and technical institutes were funded adequately, and sport was seen as a nice optional extra, like the drama society or fencing club; not something that was needed to top-up funds or attract people. But then again, certain universities have reputations in certain areas anyway...is sport different? I'm torn. But I come back to the point Soror Magna made about brain injuries: to me allowing this possibility is criminal.
  • I wonder how much sports in university goes back to the idea of muscular Christianity in the 19th century. Certainly it is then that crew and rugby became big at Oxford and Cambridge.
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    I think you mean wugger
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    With thanks to Walt Hickey's Numlock, a WSJ article I link to but cannot read as I don't have a subscription:
    ...40 percent of parents with kids in youth sports are confident that one day their child will get an athletic scholarship as a result of their skills on the field. Families who have kids on elite sports teams spent $3,167 per player in 2018, which was up from $1,976 in 2013, ... only 2 percent of high school athletes get any amount of a college scholarship. Baseball parents spent $4,041 per child per year and volleyball parents spent $8,027 per kid in 2016 ...
    (my bold)

    I'm all for sport for kids, and adults, despite me being as unco as possible, but that is a lot of money... And 40% thinking their child will vs 2% actual?!? Wow. I didn't realise that discrepancy.
  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    That's actually better odds than I thought. A significant proportion of the Y6 boys I taught - 2 or 3 in each class - thought they were going to make it as professional football (soccer) players, earn seven figure salaries with their skills, and not have to worry about school. And bear in mind these were 10-11 year olds.

    To my knowledge, only one of them from eight years of teaching was eventually taken on in the football academy, and his 'career' was brought to an end, age 17, by knee surgery. And, he was an exceptional goalkeeper. I have no idea what happened to the many, many others, but I did regularly used to point out (being a male in a primary school meant I was at least some sort of role model, even if my role was nerdy book type) that there were a tiny number of home-grown premiership footballers, compared with computer scientists, doctors, engineers, who all earned good wages and for whom one accident didn't necessarily spell the end of their career.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited April 26
    Yebbut sports in general and football in particular are our culture's religion, one in which I'm an atheist. Boys especially are taught to obsess about it to a degree which would invite an autism diagnosis where it concerned with anything else.

    Fortunately our HE sector is not as sport obsessed as I understand the US one is. There might be a University football club in the SU but few people outside it would generally know or care about its matches.
  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    I mean, sure it's popular, but religion is our culture's religion, if you take the bald numbers. Total football attendances for a year across all leagues is just shy of 50million. Total church attendances are three times that.
  • GwaiGwai Purgatory Host, Epiphanies Host
    edited April 26
    To be fair, ten to eleven year olds are not known for their realism. I encourage my four year old in his assurance that he should work on his science and math so that he will eventually become an astronaut because I figure that even though his odds of becoming an astronaut are minuscule--particularly with the eye sight that runs in my family--but it's still good for him to try. These parents may feel similarly, that their kid might get an athletic scholarship even if they don't go pro and it's healthy to exercise and try, besides 10 is too early to know. I value science and math more than athleticism, so I wouldn't say I agree with them but I see the point.

    Separately, does the football attendance count people watching it on the TV? Because at least in my country that would be where you would find the most watchers.
  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    No, they're not known for their realism, but when you're trying to teach the little sods and they tell you they don't need to know how to read or add stuff up because they're going to play for Grabthar United or whatever, then I will absolutely crush their dreams.

    (I wanted to be an astronaut. Still do.)
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    That's actually better odds than I thought. A significant proportion of the Y6 boys I taught - 2 or 3 in each class - thought they were going to make it as professional football (soccer) players, earn seven figure salaries with their skills, and not have to worry about school. And bear in mind these were 10-11 year olds.

    To my knowledge, only one of them from eight years of teaching was eventually taken on in the football academy, and his 'career' was brought to an end, age 17, by knee surgery. And, he was an exceptional goalkeeper. I have no idea what happened to the many, many others, but I did regularly used to point out (being a male in a primary school meant I was at least some sort of role model, even if my role was nerdy book type) that there were a tiny number of home-grown premiership footballers, compared with computer scientists, doctors, engineers, who all earned good wages and for whom one accident didn't necessarily spell the end of their career.

    Same with my son. His handle was "soccernerd." He was very good, but then a side tackle blew his knee out at 16. He then turned to drama. He still plays pick up games, but he has to wear a heavy brace. Technically he is supposed to wear it all the time. Eventually, he will have to have surgery.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited April 26
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    I mean, sure it's popular, but religion is our culture's religion, if you take the bald numbers. Total football attendances for a year across all leagues is just shy of 50million. Total church attendances are three times that.

    Football supporters give the impression of being considerably more enthusiastic... Moreover there are millions who watch it on the telly - I seem a lot more likely to meet a sports fan - even if he seldom attends a match - than a churchgoer. What with widespread televisation and the high cost of match tickets I don't think the comparison really stands. I think you need to give weight to the millions who get terribly excited about the evening's match even though they're only watching on telly.
  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    I have no idea as to who televises the footie, but the weekly viewing figures are here. Sky Sports Premier League gets 774,000, and I think BT get another million.

    If we were to run the numbers, it might be surprisingly close.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited April 26
    There is rather a lot on Freeview channels as well.

    Your own 8-10% of any given class aiming to be professional footballers - one sport alone - seems to me to point to higher numbers than found in church/mosque/synagogue etc.
  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    It's only three kids out of any class of 30 who need to be church-going.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    edited April 26
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    It's only three kids out of any class of 30 who need to be church-going.

    That would be rather higher than I've ever observed. And your three would-be footballers are only a proportion of football lovers. When I were a lad virtually *every* boy except me watched football and went on and on about it.
  • Being a football fan is rather a social expectation in the UK, though. I am often asked which team I support, in a way that doesn't entertain the idea that I might not support any team. Politicians are routinely asked which team they support, and are expected to have an answer (cf. David Cameron's "support" of Aston Villa - or is it West Ham?)

    Nobody asks you what Church you go to without expecting that "I don't" might be a possible answer.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Being a football fan is rather a social expectation in the UK, though. I am often asked which team I support, in a way that doesn't entertain the idea that I might not support any team. Politicians are routinely asked which team they support, and are expected to have an answer (cf. David Cameron's "support" of Aston Villa - or is it West Ham?)

    This stopped happening when I started working in IT. Watchers of The IT Crowd would see much of Moss in my feelings towards 22 grown ups doing PE.

  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    Vaguely back on topic, one of my godsons got a scholarship to a top UK university because he was in the England Lacrosse squad. He did, however, have all of the grades required for the course he applied for, and didn't just go to university for the sole intention of playing sport.

    Do those on US athletic scholarships actually have to have good SATs/do any study/get a degree etc?
  • Athletic scholarships in CIS (Canadian inter-University Sports) is limited to tuition only. Currently somewhere between about $5,000 and $7,000. It is not allowed to provide any other incentives in the way of money and gift in kind. Not sure if sororities and fraternity houses are illegal elsewhere, they are in my province. The bans on things like these are to keep the playing field level such that personal and family background has nil to do with program of study acceptance.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    KarlLB wrote: »
    Yebbut sports in general and football in particular are our culture's religion, one in which I'm an atheist.
    It's an old joke here that the official state religion is college basketball.

    Climacus wrote: »
    I'm all for sport for kids, and adults, despite me being as unco as possible, but that is a lot of money... And 40% thinking their child will vs 2% actual?!? Wow. I didn't realise that discrepancy.
    Well, in the interests of disclosure, I guess that makes me the father of a 2-percenter—recruited by numerous colleges and universities while in high school, eligibility established with the NCAA, NCAA-sanctioned "official visits" to various schools, acceptance for admission (on merit), commitment to and an athletic scholarship from the top choice Division I school. This, by the way, is for a non-revenue generating sport.

    We did spend some money for a service to assist with the recruitment process, both to assist us and to act as an information clearinghouse for interested coaches. But we never spent any money to speak of on participation in the sport.

    Doc Tor wrote: »
    Do those on US athletic scholarships actually have to have good SATs/do any study/get a degree etc?
    It varies. Like many other things related to the problems with collegiate sports in the US, it's complicated.

    When it comes to admissions, some schools have a policy that they will not waive or loosen their admission requirements and standards. Other schools may give a coach x number of slots per year that the coach may use to request admission of athletes who otherwise would not meet admission standards. In some cases I have seen, this means that a very good student who wouldn't make the cut because of intense academic competition still gets in because of athletic ability. In other cases I have seen, it can mean admission of students who really aren't equipped to succeed at the college or university in question.

    As for graduation, athletes must maintain a minimum GPA to continue participation in their sports, and I don't know of any school that waives graduation requirements for athletes. Many may require study halls for athletes, and will provide tutors for athletes. That said, it's becoming more and more common for some particularly good athletes, men's basketball players in particular, to go pro before finishing school.

    And there's no question that there's a problem at many schools with athletes—mainly football and basketball players, based on what I've seen, but possibly athletes in other sports as well at some schools—being funneled into easy majors and easy courses. Recent scandals have exposed fraudulent grading schemes, ghost writing of research papers and the like.

    But I think it has to be borne in mind that not all college sports are the same. Based on the most recent stats I've seen, the NCAA has over 1,200 member schools. Around 450 of those are Division III schools, meaning, among other things, that they offer no athletic scholarships. While these tend to be small schools, there are a number of prestigious Division III schools. Another 300+ are Division II schools, where the athletic programs are typically somewhat limited.

    The big athletic programs are Division I, and even there there can be a distinction between the revenue generating sports like football and basketball and other sports (and sometimes between men's and women's sports). When the discussion is about schools profiting off of athletes, the athletes at issue are typically football or basketball players. Those sports—unlike the other main collegiate sport that might lead to a professional career, baseball—lack the farm team/minor league system for bringing in new talent that baseball has. College teams function as a kind of minor league for football and basketball. (I think soccer can sometimes fall into this category, too.)

    It's worth noting that not all Division I (or II or III) schools have football, which is more expensive to operate. And while Division I and II schools are permitted to offer athletic scholarships, not all actually do. For example, I don't think any of the Ivy League schools offer athletic scholarships.

    So all of this is to say that not all collegiate sports, and not all colleges and universities that sponsor sports teams, fit into a single mold. It's a complicated landscape that presents complicated problems.

  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    When it comes to admissions, some schools have a policy that they will not waive or loosen their admission requirements and standards. Other schools may give a coach x number of slots per year that the coach may use to request admission of athletes who otherwise would not meet admission standards. In some cases I have seen, this means that a very good student who wouldn't make the cut because of intense academic competition still gets in because of athletic ability. In other cases I have seen, it can mean admission of students who really aren't equipped to succeed at the college or university in question.

    In the College Admissions Scandal 2019 thread that spawned this discussion one of the (alleged) work-arounds to facilitate admissions was convincing a coach to use one of his sports admissions "slots" for the otherwise unqualified student. The students were not expected to actually play the sport and may, in fact, have been unaware that such a bureaucratic work-around was used for their admissions.
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    It's worth noting that not all Division I (or II or III) schools have football, which is more expensive to operate.

    For a while there was a strategy smaller colleges were using called "killing the football team". The idea was that schools that were regular under-performers in (American) football could double their resources devoted to the sport and have all the effect of finishing seventh* in their conference instead of dead last or they could just shutter the football program entirely and devote about half the resources to a less popular sport like fencing, water polo, or volleyball and build a program that could be state or national champions in a few years. Being the #1 college for [ fencing / water polo / volleyball ] is nowhere near as lucrative in terms of endorsements and media contracts as being the #1 college for American football (or even the #1 college for American football within your conference), but it's a lot better than being second-to-last in the Ohio Valley Conference (for example) and more achievable than improving your football standings.

    I'm not sure if this is still considered a valid strategy for college athletic programs or if all the diversification the market can bear has taken place by now.


    *A Division I athletic conference typically has ten or twelve schools in it.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    Very interesting Crœsos...


    Thanks for the information, Nick; and to make it clear -- as I was not -- I was not intending to suggest it was wasted money or necessarily problematic; I do think the discrepancy between hope and reality is somewhat worrying, as I imagine there is a lot of disappointment. But well done to you and your child.

    When you said "non-revenue generating sport", what exactly does this mean? No revenue for the athlete?
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Climacus wrote: »
    When you said "non-revenue generating sport", what exactly does this mean? No revenue for the athlete?
    Sorry I wasn’t clear on that. I mean a sport that doesn’t generate revenue for the school.

    Between television and radio revenue, ticket sales, marketing and licensing of sports-related merchandise, etc., sports like football and basketball (men’s basketball in particular) can generate lots of revenue for a school. Sports like, say, tennis, wrestling or cross-country/track and field generally don’t. They don’t draw big crowds and they usually don’t end up on TV.

    @Crœsos, I’m familiar with the “killing the football team” strategy, but I don’t know either whether it’s considered a good strategy these days. I tend to think it may have peaked, so to speak, but maybe not.

    Another factor that I think could come into play with that strategy is the large size of a football team (which is all male) compared to most other teams, and the Title IX requirements for providing equity of opportunity for female athletes. Of course, that could also be a pretextual reason for killing a sport like football.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    No need to apologise... thanks Nick!
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    An obvious problem with taking a market-led approach to sports leagues is that, while your best local baker can easily keep going if all the other bakers in town shut up shop, your best sports team rather requires other sports teams to beat. Did that become a problem?
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    My sister's partner's brother and uncle have both played football at the highest level. I had no compunction in urging them to get down to business. It would be brilliant to be the uncle of a ridgie didge football star, and these days women's football is on the telly. By the time my putative neice is 18, she will be pulling in the big bucks and I'll be riding my electric buggy to the VIP section at Prinny Park. Don't worry. I'll pretend to be humble, but I'll make sure she knows that her conception was basically my idea.
  • Doc TorDoc Tor Hell Host
    To clarify - I have zero problems with athletes earning money through sport. It's whether or not they should gain college places without the required grades and the college then make money off the back of these athletes and not sharing it with their students.
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