Don’t blame tutition increases on athletics


It takes more than chump change to get a college education. Every year, parents have to reach deeper into their pockets to pay for the cost of tuition and fees.

There’s a misconception that tuition climbs at universities, in part, because of athletics. Rising tuition has little, if anything, to do with what universities spend on athletics, if that’s any consolation.

Granted, college students who choose to attend sporting events might have to dig deeper into their pockets, but what’s a little extra money to support their team?

There aren’t many careers in a down economy that are recession-proof, but coaching at the Division 1 level might be one of them.

So how are athletic departments seemingly able to thrive in the midst of challenging economic times? Athletic departments are very good at balancing a lot of interests and demands, but balancing the budget isn’t one of them. Regardless of school colors, athletic department budgets know red far better than black.

Can we agree that college sports are more than a little out of whack in our society? No? OK. Make that a lot out of whack.

An editorial on boston.com said that it’s been known for some time that top-paid basketball and football head coaches make $4 million to $5 million a year, while salaries for assistant coaches have hit the $1 million mark.

High salaries are justified because these sports bring in revenue in ticket sales, TV and contributions from loyal alumni. And don’t forget the valuable experiences that benefit the shoe companies, er, student-athletes.

But another phenomenon appears to be occurring. Lower-profile sports are starting to spend money like there’s no tomorrow.

I didn’t realize until recently that five baseball coaches in the Southeastern Conference make at least $500,000 a year, which surpasses the median pay of $436,111 of public-university presidents.

“Schools like Florida, Oklahoma and Ohio State pay volleyball, softball, baseball and even strength-and-conditioning coaches double and triple what they pay full professors,” according to the article. And a 2009 Columbus Dispatch story says the $331,000 salary of the baseball coach was more than triple the entire ticket revenue for that sport.

What does it all mean? Most sports programs lose money. An NCAA report found that at the top of Division 1, only 14 of 120 athletic programs made money in 2009, down from 25 in 2008.

If the losses were just a few thousand dollars, it wouldn’t be too bad, but median losses by athletic departments grew by 26 percent in one year from $8.1 million to $10.2 million.

Excessive spending is sometimes justified by the notion that high-profile programs are a seductive “front porch” to invite alumni dollars and better students. But how many students really choose a school largely because of its athletic program?

The Congressional Budget Office concluded, “There is no evidence suggesting that athletic programs increase the overall amount of charitable contributions … or the average quality of students attending all colleges.”

There are those who believe that the run-up in coaches’ salaries has resulted from athletic directors competing to see who has the best overall won-loss record, spanning all sports. Hence, the biggest money flows to the winningest coaches.

The boston.com editorial concluded, “At the current pace of spending, the Knight Commis­sion estimates that each of the budgets of the top 10 public-university athletic powers will surpass $250 million by 2020, or five times that of the current NCAA median for athletic department expenses.

“There is nothing wrong with school pride. But with everyday students drowning in debt, college presidents need to curb their pride and stop throwing fool’s gold at coaches.”


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