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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Why Do Major Colleges Have Football?

I'm reading the book on major college football -- former SI writer Armen Keteyian is one of the authors, and one of the first points the authors make is that only 20% of the "big-time" programs make money.  So, if that's the case, and 80% of the programs lose money on football, why play it?

Everyone else has been faced with budget cuts.  Football is expensive -- insurance, equipment, stadiums, staffs -- you name it, football costs more per kid than any other player.  And this awful percentage doesn't even take into account FCS schools, almost all of which probably lose money (and make it up, in certain cases, by charging high student activity fees).  There are certain reasons cited -- getting the student body fired up, getting the alumni to donate -- but aren't these old bromides that lack empirical proof?

Atop that, kids get hurt over and over again, and certain kids, let's face it, get used.  They are kept eligible to glorify the school and help a coach keep his job.  But afterwards, they get discarded the way the old shoulder pads do.  See, for example, the Oklahoma State expose in SI.

So I don't get it.  I mean, I like my hometown pro team, and yes, homecoming at my school can be fun (especially because I can see old friends).  But in this day and age, why do so many schools go to the sometimes extraordinary expense to have a football program?  There are protestors on every university campus about everything -- and sometimes the issues do not even make any sense.  Where is the hue and cry about football when compared to the dropping of numerous sports for other kids?  Okay, so softball won't generate a dime for Temple University, and that gets to another line of thinking.

Why have intercollegiate athletics at colleges anyway?  Oh, sure, because Winston Churchill once wrote that the Battle of Britain was won on the playing fields at Eton, or something like that.  But does that mean that Eton had to beat another school, or was it through intramural athletic vigor at the heralded English boarding school?  Put differently, should universities be putting their extra dollars toward those programs and, say, not programs that might be better designed to help kids develop passions for careers that lead them to be good citizens and, yes, taxpayers?

The arguments can be endless, but the expenses can be great.  I didn't realize that so many programs lose money, but the reporting seems pretty detailed.  At any rate, I don't want to get anyone in the SEC or elsewhere all riled up during holiday season, but the questions need to be asked.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

C'mon SportsProf, you are better than this.

The college library costs millions to run and doesn't bring in any real income. Does it "lose" money? No, that's the cost associated with providing library services.

The fee intramural athletes pay to play broom hockey and co-rec soccer doesn't cover the cost of the intramural program. That's money spent to provide the service.

Certainly the scale is different but the money spent on football is simply that, money spent. It isn't money "lost." It's money used to provide a service to the athletes, to their fans and the alumni.

No one complains that money is "lost" on the high-priced speaker who is flown in to give a talk for biology department. That's money spent.

If libraries, intramural departments and biology departments aren't required to earn money, why should the football program?

12:01 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Lots of good thoughts, thanks.

I suppose at the end of the day, when we ask the questions "why?" or "so what?" there are not many ready answers. It's all a matter of priorities, I think, and it must amaze parts of the world that our country is so abundant that wealthy people can donate monies for something like football. And, no, I'm far from having any relationship with, let alone a membership in, the "Bash America" crowd. It's just that the expenses that are undertaken are so great, I just wonder whether they'd be better allocated making college more affordable and enabling kids to emerge from college with less debt than they do now (which has effects on marriage and having kids -- a confidence factor, if it were).

i suppose I'm just at a stage in my life where I'm more apt to question the general theories people operate under, such as "intercollegiate athletics" are a great thing, whether you play in a non-revenue sport or not. I just am not sure that's the case, given the efforts that families undertake to get their kids noticed by some school. A friend has a kid who plays Division III baseball, and he offered that the coaches told the kids what courses to take so that they could have from noon on to practice all around the school year. Really? At a DIII school? Why?

I do think that people complain about all things that lose money everywhere these days, because we're living increasingly in a world of metrics, procurement and where people question the value of things as well as age-old values. And, my bet is that a lot more is spent on athletic dorms and tutors than it is on the average guest lecturer.

Always good to check the old assumptions, because it can be fun to replace them with new concepts and things.

5:53 PM  

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