Rigging the playing field
The Rieger Report
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013 23:01
America’s third-most popular sport is singlehandedly ruining higher education. College football has become the definition of inequality in a sport that could become the second most popular behind only the NFL over the next few years.
Conference realignment and money are once again at the heart of the discussion, but this time with much bigger implications.
A report released Wednesday by the Delta Cost Project illustrates the growing disparity between athletic and academic spending: of the six major conferences, each spends more than $100,000 per athlete while spending less than $20,000 per student. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) has the greatest disparity, dishing out nearly $164,000 per athlete, more than 12 times what is spent per student each year.
Meanwhile, students are increasingly shouldering the overall cost burden. While tuition has continued to rise, state support for students has decreased more than 25 percent, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. This tuition trend has translated into record student debt levels of more than $1 trillion, as student debt outpaced credit card debt for the first time ever in 2011, according to The New York Times.
And tuition costs could continue to rise as schools fight for lucrative TV contracts and higher conference payouts.
The Birmingham News’ Jon Solomon reported, “25 percent of Division I members changed conferences or announced their intention to switch leagues,” over the past 10 years, up 6 percent from the previous 10-year stretch. However, according to Solomon, “What’s different now are more high-profile schools from major conferences are realigning.”
Revenue for the top five conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC) increased 138 percent from 2000 to 2010, while member payouts rose drastically. The largest increase was in the Big Ten at $22.9 million per member, more than three times what member schools made 10 years earlier, according to The Birmingham News. In addition, the average total compensation of the top five conference commissioners increased more than 300 percent between 2000 and 2010.
College football is at the heart of this change. The five major conferences in college football have left everyone else in the dust, as smaller programs scramble for solutions.
Of the 12 Division I conferences, the Mid-American Conference (MAC) had the fourth lowest revenue in 2010 and the second lowest commissioner compensation; only the Sun Belt Conference paid their commissioner less.
On top of this, according to USA Today’s “NCAA college athletics department finances database,” the average MAC institution’s revenue subsidy was more than 72 percent between 2006 and 2011, compared to 3.22 percent for the average SEC school. A university’s total subsidy is the sum of institutional and state support along with student fees. In 2010, Miami relied on student fees to fund more than 50 percent of its athletic program.
In addition, every public SEC football coach now makes more than $2 million per year. The average salary of full-time faculty members, according to the American Association of University Professors, is less than $83,000.
Luckily for Miami University students, the school’s athletic expenses are much lower than major conferences, but it begs the question: what price are students and administrators willing to pay to put winning teams on the field?
The annual NCAA Convention held this week will look this issue right in the eye.
Previous efforts by the NCAA to limit television exposure, which translates directly into increased revenue and more competitive teams, have been halted by the U.S. Supreme Court for violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Now the NCAA could take another step backward, allowing coaches to recruit players sooner and removing many of the restrictions involving coach and athlete contact.
Not only are college athletics seemingly becoming immune to any regulation, but also much of the change over the past 20 years is linked to college football.
Investment in college football has the potential for big returns, but at what cost?
Backwards university priorities focusing on increased television exposure and bowl payouts are destroying higher education, and the new four-team college football playoff beginning in 2014 will further consolidate resources among the power conferences. Rather than solving the problem, college football has exacerbated it … again.