Sunday, October 28, 2012

Run for your money, the economic nonsense of college athletics

It is my contention that university athletics in general and at UNM in specific are a drain on the university and do not provide a worthwhile return on the investment the school makes in them. My modest proposal then is not the abolition of the sports programs at UNM, but to relegate them to the level of clubs. Vast sums of money are poured into the university athletics program. The usual justification for this is that having a successful sports team aids in national recognition and that aids in recruitment, arguably for the university itself, but the primary benefit for this probably falls to the sports program itself. In that a superior athletics program is more likely to attract superior athletes, not necessarily superior students. Athletics are often cited as a way of maintaining alumni interest in the university and thus increasing alumni funding but a study by the NCAA(1) found that this is not in fact the case. The relative success or failure of the sports programs at a university shows no apparent statistical relevance to alumni donations. Furthermore the study also showed that an increase in funding for athletics shows no statistical correlation between either team success or revenue from ticket sales. College athletics represent black holes for funding. That is, money can be poured into the programs, but there is no reason so expect any return on that investment.

UNM's athletic department runs on a $27,551,570 budget for the 09-10 fiscal year according to their SFRB application for a further $1,525,842(2). This is an immense amount of money to be pouring into these programs given the general state of the New Mexican economy, and the economy of the school in particular. According to a 2002 article at the time, both Stanford and the University of Michigan, significantly better funded schools, spend in the area of 33 million a year to run their athletics programs(5). This should raise some serious questions as to the amount of funding being put towards the athletics programs atUNM. How is it that a school whose overall economic profile could never compete with either of those schools pays the kind of money towards sports as those two institutions? Furthermore I perhaps falsely assumed that the point of a university is to educate people, and to provide them with the best education that the institution can afford. To that end the university is paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $750,000 a year to Michael Locksley plus benefits and Steve Alford negotiated a $975,000 compensation. This while multiple departments are losing faculty due to individuals retiring and there is a freeze on new faculty. The average salary for a UNM professor is around $108,859 (2). I leave you to do the math as to how many professors we could manage off the salary of one head coach, much less the small army of support staff that make up the athletics department. The fact is that the amount of money we spend is disproportionate given the size and fiscal capability of the university.

To add insult to injury the student athletes are afforded a great many amenities that the average student does not have access to. Granted these "student" athletes probably do need more outside support to assist them in passing their classes since they miss so much class that any "mere" student would long have been dropped for a similar amount of absences. Health insurance, tutors, psychological assistance, the list of assistance options to student athletes is a long list of programs designed to assist the student athlete pursue their college degree. What I find strange however is the wording specifically used in the SFRB request. There seem to be a proliferation of programs that are designed to almost force the student athlete to study and work on school related material. This is of course because as the athletics department states in the SFRB request "student athletes are held to strict academic requirements for competition as dictated by the NCAA and the mountain west conference, these standards are in most cases more stringent than those required of the general student population." I did a little research and found that the NCAA requirements are in fact simply a percentage of the school's minimum GPA requirement. Of course the required percentage of the minimum GPA required by the school goes up for each year attended, the benchmark is still the minimum. That benchmark is the same one that all students are subject to. I fail to see how more is required (academically) of student athletes than other students.

University athletics provides nothing economically to the university. For a school the size of UNM having an athletics department the size of the one we have can only be detrimental to the overall quality of the education at the university. So much money is sunk into athletics programs with the only beneficial result being perhaps a heightened sense of community and morale. But my suggestion of maintaining sports at a club level would still allow for these benefits while allowing the university to compete academically with other universities due to the flood of funding that could be diverted from athletics. Furthermore student athletes who are serious about receiving an education would be able to receive a better education and not endure such demands on their time as are currently required by their participation in a sports programs. The relegation of sports to the club level seems the only responsible solution to the situation facing the University. It would provide the athletic outlet for those who both enjoy sports and those who enjoy watching them. But at the same time it would allow the massive amounts of funding that are currently spent on sports to be diverted towards other, dare I suggest academic, programs. While some may say that the loss of division 1 sports will cause immense financial repercussions for the school I ask how could saving almost 30 million a year hurt the school financially? That money certainly isn't made back in tickets. That is money that disappears every years and does nothing to further the quality of the education of the average student. If the school truly cared about giving a competitive education and doing first class research and turning the university from a no name backwater state school into a first class institution the solution is relatively simple. Abolish sports teams, relegate them to the level of clubs and let them lobby for funding like everyone else on campus who has a non academic interest but would like to pursue it while attending the university. I fully believe in the role of clubs and special interest groups that are funded in part by UNM. I don't know why it is that one particular group should receive such a disproportionate amount of money while the fundamental elements of the university are left to suffer.

(1)Litan, Robert. Jonathan Orzag, Peter Orzag. "The empirical effects of collegiate athletics: An interim report" Sebago Associates August 2003

(2)Cass, Tim "2010-2011 Student Fee review board funding request application" 12/7/09

(3)"Unm's $100k Club: More than 750 university employees draw six figure salaries" TMC.NET May 20 2007
(4)"Intercollegiate Athletics: Four year colleges' experience adding and discontinuing teams" GAO reports; 3/8/2001

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