Most of us are well familiar with the multi-billion dollar business big-time college sports have become and their questionable impact on the so-called “student-athletes” who fuel them. See The Hypocrisy of Big-Time College Sports. Questions of amateurism, exploitation and academic failure and fraud associated with these major sports have been swirling about for years. And they may soon be coming to a head with the recent antitrust challenge to the NCAA’s player compensation ban and the recent NLRB decision finding Northwestern University football players are employees entitled to unionize.
But what has largely flown under the radar is the much broader question of whether colleges in general are devoting a disproportionate amount of resources to their sports programs. Not just the powerhouse schools with their revenue-driven football and men’s basketball programs. But all schools, big and small. And all sports, even those obscure ones that no one comes to watch. Now, we apparently have an answer to this mostly overlooked query. What has become endemic across the entire college sports spectrum is an overemphasis on intercollegiate athletics in every form.
That is the unadulterated finding of the recently released Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Titled “Losing Focus,” the report paints a very gloomy picture of the state of higher education in this country. And it is all the money pumped into college sports which, according to the report, is one of the key contributors to this academic breakdown — “the spending priority accorded to competitive athletics too easily diverts the focus of our institutions from teaching and learning to scandal and excess.”
Here are some of the AAUP’s key findings in this regard:
- Between the 2003-04 and 2010-11 school years, community college spending on academic instruction decreased 8.5%, while spending on athletics increased 35%.
- During this period, spending on academic instruction at four-year public universities increased only 0.9%, while spending on athletics increased 25%.
- During this period, spending on academic instruction at four-year private universities increased only 5.1%, while spending on athletics increased 29%.
- For Division III schools, spending on athletics during this period increased 59% for those schools with a football program, and 112% for those schools without.
- Between the 2005-06 and 2011-12 school years, median compensation for full professors in Division I schools increased by only 4%, while median compensation for head coaches increased anywhere from 9% to 102%, depending on the sport. Some of the largest increases were in “minor” sports such as golf (79%), Tennis (53%) and soccer (50%). Even the median increase for cross-country/track coaches was roughly four-times that for professors.
What the AAUP concluded from all this is an “irrational exuberance” these days surrounding college sports “to the detriment of academics and student success.” But it does not have to stay this way, the organization offered. By bringing greater transparency to these spending imbalances and galvanizing the higher education community to take greater stock of their ultimate academic mission, the AAUP is hoping that change is on the way.
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