By The Commentators

Big Time Sports: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

By The Commentators Posted December 11, 2013 at 6:00 am

This is Lew Margolis.

Since 1989, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has worked to ensure that athletic programs operate within the educational mission of their colleges and universities. Following the lead of our late, beloved William Friday, a founding co-chair of the Commission, all who care about the growing harms to the mission of UNC associated with the profit sports of Division 1 football and basketball owe much thanks to the Commission for just releasing an interactive database to explore athletic and academic spending at Division 1 schools. Let’s look at some striking expenses on a per student or per athlete basis.

Over the years 2005 through 2011, per student academic spending, defined as just those costs associated with educating students, has declined by 12% at UNC to about $31,000. In striking contrast, football spending per player has entered the stratosphere, increasing by 56%, to nearly $145,000 per player. A big chunk of this increase in football spending comes from coaches salaries, of course, where nationally, the highest paid football coaches now earn over $5.5 million. At UNC, coaching compensation per player has increased a whopping 138%. Debt service for facilities has also exploded, more than doubling to over $4.2 million per year in 2011. To those who argue that most of this is spending comes from ticket sales, TV revenue, and private donations, it is worth pointing out that institutional funding, that is, the athletic subsidy per athlete (not just football) has increased by 83%, just over $11,000. UNC seems to be racing to catch up to its ACC competitors, where the average athletic subsidy has increassed by only 18%. Recall that the athletic subsidy has increased while per student academic spending has declined by 12%.

To summarize, academic spending per student is down and athletic spending in general and for football in particular is up, in some cases, way up. Even if UNC were not mired in athletics scandals that have tarnished the reputation of our great university and drained its coffers of millions of dollars in expenses for public relations and legal services, the growth in athletic spending should give us pause. I have two questions. How does UNC justify these rising expenses, especially given the way that a profit sport like football distorts the mission of the university? More importantly, what process led to these extraordinary increases? Specifically, did a Chancellor or Provost or a Board of Trustees committee or the Faculty Council review data and make a thoughtful, strategic decision to increase these expenditures? Or, is this yet more evidence of how the pressures of big time sports have unconsciously led us astray?

This is Lew Margolis.

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