Athletic revenue at colleges was the topic of discussion at the last teach-in.
The lucrative world of college sports has been dealt its fair share of punches in the past year. Devastating scandals at Penn State and Syracuse have brought the world of big-time university athletics under a microscope.
The sobering reveal of power and corruption at the top level of collegiate athletics has led many university officials, fans and alumni alike to ask the question: Has too much power been given to collegiate athletics? And how far will we some go to preserve it?
As the sports world celebrates the chaos of NCAA’s cash cow tournament, Temple economics professor Mike Leeds led the latest Dissent in America teach-in discussion by asking students about the madness associated with the month.
If these scandals are to be understood, Leeds said, the fundamental piece of the puzzle is the relationship between a university and its sports. During the past half-century, college athletics – namely, football and men’s basketball – have found themselves at a near-professional level, and have become the most valued asset of many big-name schools.
The University of Texas, the nation’s largest collegiate football program, forged the way for the football-driven college identity with their “Longhorn Economy,” which includes television networks, apparel, ticket sales and countless other commodities. If privatized, Leeds said, the franchise would sell for close to $130 million dollars – close to the approximate worth of the Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League.
A multitude of factors contribute to this net worth of a college team, but one of the most significant, Leeds said, is the salaries paid to coaching staff. One-third of the expenditures in college sports are coach’s salaries.
“We have the NCAA making hundreds of millions of dollars for one basketball tournament,” Leeds said. “We have coaches being paid many, many times what the highest faculty members are being paid.”
However, while these athletic programs reap an overwhelming amount of money in revenue, the actual contribution to a college’s budget, for most, is non-existant. Often times, the money gained is subsidized into other athletic programs or spent on other improvements.
“Very, very rarely does any athletic department make money,” Leeds added. “The average school is subsidized by the university, so basically, you eat what you kill. You make money, you spend money.”
This money, Leeds added, makes a small dent in the overall revenue of a university as a whole. In fact, Penn State football – the third most lucrative program in the nation – revenue, ringing in at $53 million annually, accounts for less than 0.05 percent of the school’s total budget.
Looking beyond financial figures, Leeds explained that collegiate sports’ other, and arguably more substantial, contribution to their universities is the sense of pride and identity successful team gives to its school.
“[Sports] gave schools, and students, a sense of identity. You needed to give students a sense of belonging, alumni a reason to give,” he said. “This was a way of getting the students to hate the Buckeyes instead of their teachers.”
This development of an identity is crucial for big-name programs, and helps to bolster the image of a school and leads to an influx of applicants.
In a recent study, men’s football and basketball programs, if ranked in the Top 20 can bolster a school’s applicant pool by anywhere from 2 percent to 8 percent, Leeds said. This contributes to the fragile power dynamic between a university’s administration and its athletic department.
As Temple athletics continue to excel and look towards the Big East conference, these questions are especially prudent.
Brian Mele, a senior accounting major, said he believes Temple has done a good job thus far of maintaining athletic dignity.
“There’s a lot of good student athletes,” Mele said. “I think we have more integrity than other schools.”
This dynamic, if maintained, can only serve to bolster a school’s sense of identity and pride. This unity found through sport, Leeds said, is the most significant contribution of collegiate athletics.
“[Sports] is a way of giving [universities] a way of saying, ‘We may not have the same scholars that you have, we may not have the same wealthy students, but damn it, we beat you in football,’” Leeds said.
Ali Watkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.