College Pigskin Robs Peter To Pay Paul

By Brian P. Dunleavy
Sept. 14, 2012

I enjoy watching college football as much as the next guy, but enough is enough.

How we can continue to justify the extravagances associated with fall Saturdays in an age when unemployment in this country is at least 8 percent and cities and states across the country teeter on the edge of financial collapse is beyond me.

What do I mean?

Well, consider the case of Ohio, where a conservative governor has been railing against the "lavish" employee benefits of teachers, firefighters, police and other public employees for years now, but the largest public university pays its football coach an astounding $6 million per year in salary in bonuses.

Or ponder the case of California. The state has the biggest budgetary crisis in the country, but its flagship university has enough greenbacks to fund a $300 million renovation of its football stadium.

But wait, there’s more.

Private universities are raising tuitions to unprecedented levels, making it more and more difficult for kids of limited means in this country to attend college, and much of these new funds are being spent on sports facilities. Baylor University in Texas is just one example of a private university that is building a brand-new football stadium despite having a more than serviceable place already on campus. Stanford University recently completed an overhaul of its football venue. These schools argue that such upgrades are vital in their efforts to appeal to new athletic recruits, but what about the needs of the non-sporting student body?

Of course, the funding for most of the aforementioned projects—and staffing—was generated by the school’s athletics programs, either from ticket or merchandise sales or from alumni/booster donations. But where is it written that these monies must be pumped back into the sports programs? Shouldn’t institutions blessed with such on-campus revenue generators use them to pump cash into other areas of their universities that have fallen victim to budget cuts?

At some schools, the situation has reached biblical proportions. Academic leaders at one Midwest public university decry the declining state of their school’s academic facilities—in particular, its science labs—while at the same time it accepts tens of millions of dollars from a very wealthy and somewhat famous alum to rebuild its football stadium. Not surprisingly, the football stadium bears his name.

I don’t expect the sports media to address such excesses—they’re getting rich off the games as well—but I’d prefer it if they didn’t celebrate them. Unfortunately, I don’t get my wish. The rich and somewhat famous donor cited above is a regular guest on ESPN broadcasts of the school’s games. Somehow, the needs of science majors don’t come up.

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, a lot of ink has been spilled about the need to put college sports in this country back into proper perspective. A week into the 2012 football season, however, I haven’t seen much change, and it doesn’t take a valedictorian to tell you that much change is necessary.

I don’t travel all that much, but I’ve been to a number of foreign cities and seen more than a few college campuses overseas. They all look pretty much like their U.S. counterparts, except for one thing: None of them have large, gleaming sports palaces dominating their campuses. And, believe it or not, the students don’t seem to be missing anything.

I’m not advocating for the elimination of major college athletics, but I still think we can learn at least a few lessors these international examples. Unfortunately, the professor who could teach us has been let go.


About the author: Brian P. Dunleavy is a writer who lives in New York.



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