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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Arms Race in College Football

How much is enough?

We live in a world where profits are fewer, profit margins are lower, guaranteed employment is far from a sure thing and businesses face increased competition.  In the current climate, people seem to be fighting for inches where decades ago with an average effort they were gaining dozens of yards.  Atop that, the cost of college has skyrocketed, making one wonder when some students will lead a movement to say "enough," demand relief from student loans that sap their confidence to buy homes and start families, insist upon internship programs at companies that do not require college degrees or insist upon access to public universities for costs that rival France's (read:  very cheap).  

Add to that background certain faculty members that challenge the United States' claim to exceptionalism and public fret about colonialism and imperialism, and it makes you wonder why they don't challenge (i) the exploitation of certain major college sports programs, (ii) the costs attendant to major college programs, especially football and (iii) the salaries of head coaches.  At some point, people should be asking, "why are they doing this?"

What brought this home for me was a discussion on talk radio today about Chip Kelly.  The conventional wisdom was that if Texas were to really want him, they'd pay him $10 million a year.  That's a lot of money, period, let alone for the leader of an extracurricular activity at a major university. And while I get the arguments that football generates revenue and can pay for an entire athletic department's budget, are head coaches really worth all that money?  Then again, if a football program brought in $40 million and they paid the coach $10 million, wouldn't that ratio track that of your average big law firm, where partners might get one quarter to one third of the billings they generate?

I am ambivalent about the whole thing.  Yes, I understand the economics, but I do not understand why any school feels compelled to keep up with this arms race.  Especially at schools where the players are kept eligible, don't advance toward meaningful degrees and get tossed aside when they get hurt (see, e.g., Oklahoma State).  Where is the outcry about that?   Why is it okay to spend all this money on a game when some kids almost bankrupt themselves to pay for college?  Universities, after all, are designed to help further the public good.  So the question remains whether by putting forth a top-notch football team with a coach paid like an investment banker serves the public good more than taking all the money it would spend on, say 100 football players on financial aid so as to reduce the burden for thousands.  Just a thought -- and one of those kids could help cure cancer.

Something tells me that the hue and cry will come more for kids who are treated as disposable than overpaid coaches.

But even that might not happen for a while, if the lack of outrage at SI's Oklahoma State series is any indication.


Blogger Steve Winkler said...

Two thoughts:

I think the faculty outrage follows the student-athlete outrage as once we come to grips with the fact that college football and basketball players at the big revenue schools are being exploited the veil will be off. At that point faculty will feel more free to complain about these well-paid employees taking up space and resources in their midst.

Also, I too am purplexed and disturbed by the lack of outrage at the Oklahoma State program for the allegations leveled. As an Oklahoman, I've seen first hand the spin machine locally minimizing the issue. But what explIns this nationally? Perhaps the ineptitude and lack of moral credibility of the NCAA?

I blogged on this at My predictions haven't entirely panned out.

1:44 AM  

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