• September 2, 2015

Should We Ditch Football?

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Brian Taylor for The Chronicle

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Brian Taylor for The Chronicle

In recent years, some colleges have eliminated their football teams or drastically reduced their athletics programs, in response to fiscal crises. But are sports teams really a drain on academic budgets?

Among the institutions that have announced plans to eliminate their football teams are California State University at Northridge (after 40 years), Hofstra University (after 69 years), Northeastern University (after 74 years), and Western Washington University (after 107 years). Those universities decided that their investment in one or more athletics programs was not paying sufficient dividends.

Often when a university announces plans to close a program, officials will, in the next breath, mention the potential cash savings. I remember reading that Hofstra hoped to save $4.5-million by eliminating its football program, money the university would then reallocate to scholarships and other expenses.

Historically, when budgets get tight, athletics programs have been a favorite target of some faculty members and administrators. That's not the case at institutions with highly successful teams, but for those with mediocre athletics programs, many constituents find it tempting to sacrifice an underproductive team to the greater good of the institution.

An athletic director at a midsize research university told me about his constant struggle over this issue with the faculty senate on his campus. "Every few months or so, one or more senators would attempt to pass a resolution stating that the senate recommends dumping our football team," he said. "It's true that our team has not been competitive for some years, but what is very frustrating is that these senators have no idea of how much even a mediocre team brings to an institution."

He pointed out that, not long before our conversation, a donor had made a substantial gift to an academic program on the campus. "He made that contribution because initially our basketball team made him proud to be an alumnus of this college, which, in turn, reminded him of how much he had learned from the faculty in his major. He wanted to contribute to his academic program as a way of expressing his thanks for helping him become so successful in life." Jettisoning the football program, the athletic director said, would be shortsighted, especially since student participation in athletics is a much more complex endeavor than merely winning or losing.

I have to admit, I was similarly shortsighted several decades ago, when the university where I worked proposed creating a football team. We were in a state where, in any given year, you might find two or three football teams listed in the top 10 nationally.

Many professors on that campus thought it would be foolhardy to invest in a new football team to rival the other, highly competitive ones at public universities in the state. "Why not invest in raising faculty salaries?" some of us argued. "Or in student scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships?"

As it turned out, I was wrong. The university created the team, largely with private money, and it went on to become nationally competitive and the pride of many of us who had originally been skeptical. Far from draining money from academic programs, it helped bring cash into the university, not only in the form of direct revenue from events but also from auxiliary contracts—sales of memorabilia, fees for playing certain games, revenue from media companies, and the like.

Today, at the university where I am provost, some faculty members have made similar arguments: "Why not close the football team and reallocate the funding to academic programs?" And that sentiment is echoed at other institutions across the nation in these challenging economic times.

What my athletic-director friend found so frustrating about such discussions is that many factors are invisible to those unfamiliar with the overall workings of a university. Even a noncompetitive or "losing" team can help the university in multiple ways.

The mere fact of having a football team, for example, is often a plus for students thinking about enrolling. I've had students tell me that although they were not sports fans, they felt good about attending an institution that sponsored a football team. Perhaps it is because football and college life are so intertwined in the American psyche, but whatever the explanation, having a team can help recruit students, and having a winning team can help attract even better students.

Similarly, having an active athletics program, especially if it includes football, is often important to alumni. Even if the team is experiencing a poor year, the games themselves can evoke memories of when alumni were students, perhaps when the team was more successful. Having a team can help keep alumni engaged with the university, and, of course, a winning team can energize them. Those may seem like intangible benefits, but alumni are among an institution's greatest supporters, financially and otherwise. Keeping them engaged, even with a mediocre team, can have substantial payoffs.

The truth is, athletics events, especially football, are often key ways of attracting potential donors to contribute—and not just to the athletics program. When I served as a dean at another institution, I worked closely with donors who had allegiances both to athletics teams and to an academic program. Frequently those donors wanted to support both. I am certain that in many of those cases, we might not have been successful in interesting the donors to give to academic programs were they not first interested in athletics.

Sports teams can foster a deep sense of community and social solidarity, even when those teams lose more often than they win. One alumna told me that she would "never give up" on her team.

Most important, athletics can increase access to higher education for some students who might not have had the financial ability to attend college were it not for athletics scholarships and other aid. And, of course, the discipline and perseverance that a student learns from participating in sports are skills essential to mastering intellectual work as well.

Rather than pitting athletics against academics, what is needed is close collaboration between the two. I was exceedingly impressed with the approach of one athletic director I know. An institution where I once worked had just hired him, and one of his first actions was to request a meeting with the provost, deans, and other academic leaders.

At the meeting, he assured us all that he saw athletics and academic programs as close partners, and that his own success would be linked in part to the academic success of his student-athletes. He then proceeded to make clear to all athletes that he expected them to excel in their studies as well as on the field.

Those of us on the academic side of the house did our part as well—making sure that the athletes had access to academic-support services, such as peer mentors, tutorial programs, and writing and math centers. In some cases, we shared the costs of those services. The collaboration resulted in academically stronger students and more-disciplined athletes.

That athletic director's attitude is certainly a long way from what we often found in the bad old days, when coaches would sometimes attempt to intimidate or bribe faculty members (often with choice tickets to games) to overlook athletes' excessive absences or to be especially lenient with grades.

The point is that athletics and academic programs can—and should—work together for the greater benefit of students. Far from a drain on the academic endeavor, athletics can be the perfect complement, both through increasing community and alumni support and through adding disciplined, hard-working students to the institution's overall population.

I am not suggesting that institutions like Hofstra have made a mistake in eliminating football or other programs. Every institution must assess that decision in the context of its own campus. But what is clear is that often there is more than meets the eye when it comes to making such decisions. The one certainty is that athletics and academic programs should not be seen as somehow working against one another.

Gary A. Olson is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Idaho State University and editor, with John W. Presley, of "The Future of Higher Education: Perspectives From America's Academic Leaders" (Paradigm). He can be contacted at golson@isu.edu.


1. nordicexpat - May 06, 2010 at 04:43 am

It would have been nice to see some empirical data rather than just opinions about the costs and benefits of athletics programs to universities. To say something like, "I am certain that in many of those cases, we might not have been successful in interesting the donors to give to academic programs were they not first interested in athletics" is so full of qualifications as to be practically meaningless. And that point is practically moot if most athletic programs need subsidies from the academic side of the university in order to balance their budgets.

A lot of the statements here seem to go against data collected by the Knight Commission On Intercollegiate Athletics (http://www.knightcommissionmedia.org/images/President_Survey_FINAL.pdf). From what I understand, few athletic programs generate more revenue than they cost to run, and, while a university whose football team just won a championship might get more applicants the next year, it doesn't get better applicants. And so on . . .

I honestly don't know much about whether Olson is correct or not, but I wish he would have addressed the critiques given by the Knight Commission and others more directly and supported his position with real data. Given how much money is at stake (I have heard that many athletic programs need 1-2 million extra a year to balance their books), Olson could have done more than just give opinions based upon personal experience. That does, however, seem to be the general approach taken by provosts, however. . .

2. dulaw - May 06, 2010 at 07:05 am

Hasn't anyone (especially Provost Olson) read the voluminous and well-researched studies by William Bowen, former Princeton president and noted economist? At least at private, highly selective colleges and universities, the evidence is that the costs of intercollegiate athletics outweigh the benefits.

3. drmoby - May 06, 2010 at 07:55 am

"The one certainty is that athletics and academic programs should not be seen as somehow working against one another." At many institutions, it seems more accurate to say that athletics and academic programs should not be seen as somehow working WITH one another. Funding issues are complex and likely not as benign as Provost Olson suggests, but the other hidden costs are cultural and personal. In college sports, particularly in NCAA-affiliated schools, student athletes are more or less required to work a near full-time job (without pay, aside from scholarships) in addition to studies. In low-performing sports programs, new coaches often seek to fix the problem with more and harder training for their athletes. These students are often on the field or the court at 6am, doing several runs and weightlifting sessions per week, and maybe even exhibition games in addition to almost daily practice--even during the off-season. Is this really making college education more available to students?
And even if ADs want to work with the academic side of the school, it's often difficult to get coaches on board. Coaches can help keep slacking students in line, but what about students who genuinely need more time for their studies? Can they get out of a weightlifting session so they can visit a professor's office hours? Fat chance. At my institution, the football coach is fond of reminding faculty that because his salary is so much bigger than theirs, that means he has a lot more power on campus than they do. When you see the gleaming new athletics facilities provided by long-time alumni donors while some of our largest and most-used academic buildings have been languishing without needed renovations (and sometimes repairs) for a decade or more, the coach seems to have a point. Even if athletics manages to bring in money for academic programs--and money drives everything in college administration these days--is it enough for the human costs to the university?

4. mlisaacs - May 06, 2010 at 07:58 am

Has no one noticed that European, Asian and Indian Universities do not maintain intercollegiate
sports teams? Expensive private schools are not supplying professional basketball and
football teams with trained players. Let us not compare sports at Yale, Harvard and Princeton, to the
sports programs at large state universities.
It is time to take an honest look at the relationship of big money and big sports to higher
education. Is the money flowing around sports really contributing to excellence in education or
is it simply buying influence?

5. fellingham - May 06, 2010 at 07:59 am

A majority of the colleges and universities that I have assisted in athletic consulting over the past 10 years did not have a clear articulation of the role of intercollegiate athletics on their campus. If they took the time and effort to decide why they have an athletic program, they can then create benchmarks to evaluate its effectness regarding its purpose. If the only reason that athletics exists is for the student-athletes to get exercise, the costs one will expend will be significantly lower than if the benchmark is geared to increasing the geographic area for applicants or positioning the college with its academic peers or competitors.
The articulation of the role of athletics must be the result of input and discussion from all the college's constituencies: students, student-athletes, faculty, staaff, administration, alumni and its wider community. This clarification of the program's mission and objectives will allow the institution in a collegial process to define what constitutes success for the athletic program. Once success is defined for the program, it can be drilled down to each team.
If at the end of this process the institution still wants to cut a sport, it will clearly understand the reasons for the cut (lack of meeting a defined goal) and the effects on the college's goals and objectives without the team.

6. dlu39503 - May 06, 2010 at 08:17 am

Athletics is the sacred cow at every university I have attended and worked for. The rules are: (1) Athletics ALWAYS benefit the university and (2) Do not question the value of athletics. I echo the comments above. This article contains no real evidence to support the assertions; it is nothing more than an opinion piece. If there is really a positive return to the university from athletics, quantify it by articulating the costs and benefits.

People often sympathize with athletes for working so hard for no income. I would say a free ride in terms of tuition and room and board are pretty good forms of compensation. I know many students who work fulltime and still need loans to get by.

7. tuxthepenguin - May 06, 2010 at 08:42 am

A few comments:

1. It's extremely difficult to measure the value of a sports program. Any such estimates are very fuzzy.

2. If we were to apply the same logic to academic programs, a whole lot of tenured faculty would be on the job market, as there is no way to justify support for their programs based on cash flow. That's not how universities are run, and that's a good thing. (Of course your program in [---] with three majors is important. It really is. It would be the end of society as we know it if your program would be shut down.)

3. We should provide a complete college experience. If you were to eliminate everything outside the classroom, the college experience would be greatly diminished. A few faculty members who don't have an interest in football should not be able to dictate what are good and bad out of classroom activities. I don't like debate, but I don't advocate elimination of the debate team.

4. The estimated benefits from dropping football are inflated. The numbers reported usually include the value of the scholarship, which assumes the football player would otherwise pay full tuition, something that is true in only a small number of cases - few students pay the sticker price. Mostly it would result in a drop in enrollment as the football players go elsewhere.

8. 11301218 - May 06, 2010 at 10:08 am

I am a dean and am still waiting for the donors
to the athletic program to send some money
to my college (science). The athletic program
is about as useful as a screen door on a

9. charles_carroll - May 06, 2010 at 10:34 am

How about a tax on all professional sporting events to support supposedly useless stuff like humanities research? (Now there's a crazy idea.)

10. maddogfan - May 06, 2010 at 11:03 am

Each school in the Big10/11 gets 20 million in Television Contracts for having a football team. That does not include the share if one of the teams wins one of the Big BCS bowl games at $13 million a pop or any of the other bowl games. Do arts programs or psychology professors or anything academic bring in that amount of money on a yearly basis? I don't think so. The University of Notre Dame gets 15 million for its sports contract. Does anyone remotely think that does not trickle down to other programs?

Most Big 10 teams sell out their home stadiums which are in a large part revenue makers when you take in sales of Sports Memoriablia, Hotel/Motel Tax, Foods, Transportation, Tickets, Parking, Alcohol, Gas, Incidentals what more do you want for a successful money making program?

Football programs contribute to the morale, welfare and spirt of the schools. Kids look forwared to the rivalries, parties, school bands, tailgating, partying. It also builds friendships and gives people a reason to look forward to something else.

It is reported that Lincoln Nebraska where the Cornhuskers play comes to a virtual standstill on days the team plays. Ever see that for an Art or Gymnastics program at a college?

I often have wondered what the payback in terms of name recognition was for USC when they won the NCAA championship a few years back. When you consider every bowl game and paper and news story and draft pick and mock drafts and college commentary that specifically mentions USC what is that worth in free advertising dollars, not to mention every XBOX/PS2/WII EA-Sports DVD/CD game that has Reggie Bush or Matt Leinart holding a USC helmet. Furthermore what is a #1 draft pick for the largest sporting event in the country worth in free advertising dollars? When Reggie Bush appears in the Super Bowl and announces USC...how much is that worth to the school?

I like how the most prestigious of colleges complain about the big money in sports but they were the first team to play the sport. Princeton vs Rutgers. Trust me Princeton would be a wasteland if it wasn't for the donors and benefactors who had generously contributed to that school over the years. Sports has contributed a great degree to the success of their programs.

There are some great articles on the web about schools which no longer have mens football teams that once did. No sports. Men essentially stop going to that college in significant numbers. Which of course could be a good thing depending on a whole host of factors.

I do think though we may have reached the point where if you can't play with the big boys it might be time to get out. However the leading receiver in the NFL went to Mississippi Valley State of which I have never ever heard another thing about since. It was refreshing to see Appalachian State beat Michigan.

11. oldcommprof - May 06, 2010 at 11:10 am

Here's the situation at my Division I southern school where our football team (I-AA) has, until recently, done very well and our basketball team (I-A) is a joke: athletics facilities costs have gone through the roof, while donations to athletics have increased modestly. Donations to academics have slipped. Numbers of student applications have increased significantly, while the classroom performance of those who enroll in my classes is in a slow, downward spiral. And that's in addition to the weak performance of the athletes themselves.

12. akprof - May 06, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Get rid of athletics is a common refrain at my institution as well - any time there is a potential for a budget cut. I remember, however, the attention that adding basketball and the Great Alaska Shootout to the University here - and it was positive attention that translated into scholarship monies that extended far beyond basketball as well as direct support for some programs. I agree that there has to be a balance but I also agree that getting rid of athletics is short-sighted. And drmosby, your football coach is truly a jerk!

13. fizmath - May 06, 2010 at 12:02 pm

I see no discussion of the quality of students who are recruited to play football at scholarship granting institutions.

14. frankschmidt - May 06, 2010 at 12:11 pm

In 1989-90, Colorado suddenly became a hot school and was inundated with applications. Was that because they won the football national championship or the Nobel prize in Chemistry?

15. brianbarsky - May 06, 2010 at 01:13 pm

How interesting to learn the Provost is "on the academic side of the house" at Idaho State University. I had thought a university was an academic institution, but now I realize it comprises academics and professional football training. Does that mean that the NFL has a "sports side of the house"? It seems that the NFL ought to run a university on its other side of the house!

16. ridpath696 - May 06, 2010 at 01:14 pm

I think all comments above have merit, and I also believe it is shortsighted to say dropping football would be a panacea when controlling costs is what should be strived for. Maddog is correct on many things, especially the money that is brought in but he must remember that there are departments that bring in millions via enrollment and grants too. It is disingenuous to bash academic programs or athletic programs, but there must be a rational discussion on reducing expenditures because even the programs that make the most money pump that money back into athletics and the arms race, and the institution (except in rare cases) sees none of the direct revenue, and any indirect measurement (applications, alumni support, etc) is as said above "fuzzy".

In spite of the popularity of athletics at some schools-Research shows that students still primarily attend an institution for non-athletic reasons. A good athletics department is a nice value added, but there are fine universities that really have only mediocre to moderate success in athletics and do not suffer for prospective students (Vanderbilt for example). This strengthens Olsen's point and on this I agree that even a bad program might be better than none at all-but I also argue that there is student apathy on many campuses because they are able to watch dozens of other games, are fans of other schools, and really have no strong connection to their own athletic department. It is sad, but true at schools like mine that have very prominent athletic programs in their backyards. I often wonder if anyone would care at some schools if they got out of the athletic business because of this phenomenon.

Where I part ways with some comments above and Olsen is the argument that money brought in by athletics somehow trickles down and the exposure generates significant ROI for the university as a whole. It is impossible to do that when departments, even many that are mentioned by Maddog are awash in debt and increasing institutional subsidies. The talks of expansion show that there is no slowing this train and even the big boys are going to eventually have a problem and it will negatively affect the university. While there is revenue coming in, it should be taxed as a mechanism to force institutions and athletic programs to manage their costs more effectively.

The application argument is a oft repeated benefit, but existing research is clear that any benefit is a short term spike at most, and typically quality does not marketly improve. This exact scenario happend at Boston College after the Flutie Pass in 1985.

While the big boys might make it for awhile, it is at the mid major and lower levels where there must be a more immediate change, such as Maddog suggests--it is time for us to get off the porch. At this level there are huge problems that are negatively affecting institutions and their core mission and this must be addressed.

We need to remember that the university (albiet different) can exist without the athletic program but the athletic department cannot in any way exist without the university-this is where the debate should begin and end. It is not a Chicken or egg argument and the core academic mission must be protected--Even though 80,000 people might not show up to watch a Chemistry experiment. However, as I always say that experiment might save 80,000 people and that is more important than anything.

17. msal513 - May 06, 2010 at 01:22 pm

First of all, if the total number of applications go up but they are all from the same type of sports fan students, the size and make-up of the incoming class isn't going to change much, so that won't result in any sort of revenue increase. The evidence is already overwhelming that donations don't go up because athletic teams win or lose - although there is a lot of evidence that athletic spending goes up regardless of if teams win or not.

This column is written by a guy with zero credibility at his own institution - particularly as it relates to solving financial deficits with organizational restructuring and reallocation of funds. Hence the recent "No Confidence" vote. And if anyone knows much about Idaho State, they know that the the athletic facilities are woefully underfunded, the teams generally perform miserably, and you can hear crickets chirping during the football and basketball games (indoors, no less).

And is this supposed to be an article encouraging collaboration between academics and athletics? Or is it about whether or not to cut football? Those are two completely different questions.

Mr. Olson went on a long wondering walk through the Idaho foothills and came up with an article that matches the randomness of his sojourn.

We all know that even a blind squirrel finds a nut everyone once in a while. I can find someone who will tell me the earth is flat. But that doesn't make it so.

18. tdr75 - May 06, 2010 at 01:31 pm

This is an argument neither side will ever win. I have been at large D-I schools, small D-I/IAA schools, now at a DIII school (in most sports anyway).

In both large D-I schools I worked at/attended, the athletic departments were money-losers... and these were not no-name schools. Yet, a couple years ago, one of those schools built an enormous addition on the football stadium (that was rarely even close to full anyway), completely rebuilt the baseball stadium, and did nothing for the basketball arena (the area that really needs the most work).

Now they are cutting faculty, cutting programs, and cutting staff... and last I checked no big donors were stepping up to help pay for those.

There is little doubt in my mind that athletics ARE important to a university...they build school spirit, enthusiasm, and engage many of the students and gives them a good space to blow off steam. However, I think that the role that athletics play at universities is massively overstated by proponents. Personally, I want my child to go to a school that has a program that interests them, faculty that are engaging, etc... if their reason is that "they won the football championship last year!!" then hell no... they won't go.

Flagging increased applications at schools that do well in sports is a red herring and frankly the benefits of such a spike are marginal at best. So you bring in more students to watch your team in a sparkling new stadium while going to class in rooms that may not have been renovated in 25 years and living in dorms that were built in the 60s...and look it (this was the case at BOTH D-I schools I worked at). Those students will not have good memories of their academic experience...only those attached to athletics...so where do you think their donations will be directed?

My feeling is that athletic success is totally unrelated to the fundamental purpose of a university. To see what happens when the "Big Athletics" mindset clashes with the "Academics is most important" mindset, just look at Binghamton University. The push by an aggressive AD and coach to build a good basketball program in D-I in a very short period of time turned into an embarrassment to the school, the community, and especially the athletics program at Binghamton. The school inarguably lost FAR more than it gained. The funny thing is... the things that brought the program down are more than tolerated at other schools. Binghamton's standards were just higher in the type of behavior they were not willing to tolerate.

Two final notes...I was a TA at one school and the only requirement to take the final exam was that you must have a photo ID. 200 students in the class and EVERY student had their ID except the star quarterback for the football team. The professor let him sit for the exam anyway. At the other large school, a star football player discharged a handgun in university-supported housing. ANY other student would have been expelled instantly (just for possessing the gun...let alone firing it). He got a slap on the wrist. These types of double standards are what worry me most about the athletics/academics debate. Athletes are treated differently, have difference expectations placed on them, and are really not integrated into the student body as a whole at most large universities. So the question that has to really be asked is why are they there? To get an education or just play a sport? If it's the latter then they don't belong there.

19. jffoster - May 06, 2010 at 01:54 pm

Milisaacs (4) asks "Has no one noticed that European, Asian and Indian Universities do not maintain intercollegiate
sports teams?"

We've noticed, but it is beside the point. There are a lot of things universities in Yurp don't have that ours do -- alma maters, alumni associations, class reunions, dormitories, .....
It's a very different system and rather different cultures.

20. mercy_otis_warren - May 06, 2010 at 02:58 pm

As others above have noted, any argument in favor of a football programs that focuses on the revenue they bring in is COMPLETELY WORTHLESS without also conceding how much these programs cost. I'd respect Olson's piece much more if he told us, plainly, how much Idaho State football brought in in revenue last year (not including as that revenue cash support from the university), versus how much the program cost to run. As nordicexpat correctly notes, almost no major college athletics programs actually make money. Maddogfan and others should also note that as the programs' costs have gone up, universities are being forced to deflect funds for other enterprises to contribute a greater percentage of the athletic budget:


The claim that big-time athletics programs are not only self-supporting, but also support other university departments, is BS. (Check out how much Alabama "made" this year from its bowl payout--bupkes after one subtracts costs.) You don't have to be a sports-hater to dislike what has become a financial drain, with academic deficits, in a brutal cost-cutting environment.

And if USC needs Reggie Bush to get kids to apply there, it's in real trouble.

21. larryhiser - May 06, 2010 at 03:01 pm

Larry Hiser of Marietta College believes that of all places, the Chronicle of Higher Education is one where commenters should post their names. I am an athletic director. I believe that if you drop football, you will lose the football players and replace them with other students but not at 100%. So, like most small private colleges, the reduced enrollment and revenue would be a difficult obstacle to overcome.

As for whether athletics belong at American Colleges, you'd have to ask the historians at Harvard and Yale why they used 'ringers' to beat one another in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Teddy Roosevelt used his presidency to clean it up. Its distinctly American.
Larry Hiser

22. tuxthepenguin - May 06, 2010 at 03:32 pm

If every university were like Marietta College, I don't think anybody would be making noise. Marietta College has quality athletics programs, but by competing in Division III, the cost is nowhere near what it is at Division I schools. I see no reason for Idaho State to drop its football program but it may well be in their interest to not be a Division I program.

23. fizmath - May 06, 2010 at 03:45 pm

I also would like to see some "real" numbers for athletic budgets. Should we include the cost of the PE classes needed to give coaches full time jobs? If a gymnasium is used by non-athletes for exercise, then will the gym not be counted as an athletic expense?

24. 22043944 - May 06, 2010 at 05:30 pm

It is a disappointment that so much bitterness abounds, especially from people who are on the outside of college athletics looking in. Budgets are stretched to their limits, yes, but let's be honest, we're all fighting over the crumbs that drop down from a much larger political debate: educational funding in our country. As a few have noted, the financial returns of an athletic department cannot be simply quantified as they affect everything from sponsorships, branding, television advertising, and a whole host of other revenue streams that ultimately benefit the university as whole, yes, even science departments busy inventing water-proof screen doors.

What is more depressing is that so little is being said of the student athletes themselves... well, aside from the very rare, but headline-grabbing gun-toter or handicapped parking abuser. This isn't the National Enquirer, is it? Student-athletes, and especially the ones I know and have known have become succesful managers, employees, bosses, fathers and mothers. Many if not most of our political figures, business leaders, Olympians, and civic leaders where athletes and will readily recount how playing sports has contributed to their success. Likewise, many activists, Nobel Prize winners, academics, and survivors of the most horrid circumstances were once athletes. They are also elementary school teachers, college presidents, firemen & women, mayors, and doctors. The fact is, playing a sport is part of the educational process, something too many of us loose sight of.

There is another way that student-athletes contribute to the well-being of the university - they are its ambassadors. Student-Athletes are regularly involved with social and charity-related programs, as a matter of fact at most institutions it is a requirement. They do this while wearing the school colors, it's mascot and it's logo. It then no longer matters what sport they play for, but what school they represent - and that is the whole school, including its biology, computers and humanities departments. They mentor, they teach, and they further the values that they learn both on the field and in the classroom. When they succeed in some meaningful way later in life, it is seldom without their peers, co-workers, or the news media mentioning the school they graduated from.

And all these things make a difference to the whole college or university.

Michael Koetsier
UC Irvine Alumnus

25. lapcas - May 06, 2010 at 05:59 pm

For me, the question is not whether we drop football or not in times of financial crisis, but why universities have sports teams at all. I totally support student-run intramural sports; physical activity is good for young people and intramurals provide great social opportunities. But I see no reason why any funding should be going to sports at the college level beyond intramurals; the university is supposed to be an institute of higher learning for those that are academically inclined. College sports have nothing to do with higher education (and I mean the education part). Yes, they might bring in donations or make college more fun, but colleges might not need those donations as much if they didn't fund athletics and the idea that college is supposed to be "fun" is symptomatic of a larger cultural problem in which people seem to see college as an extended summercamp, replete with fancy condomonium-style dorms and pools with misting cabanas (they have them at the public R-1 institution where I received my degree that is now in dire financial straits). Moreover, I have had several athletes as students over the past few years and while they are all polite and responsible, every single one was has been dramatically underqualified and underprepared for university work (they have primarily been swimmers, golphers, and runners and generally do not come from economically underprivileged backgrounds). It drives me nuts that not only are these kids taking admission spots from students more qualified to do the kind of work that one is supposed to be doing at college, but that they are getting financial aid monies that could go to kids who really need them and who are far better suited to university educations.

26. lfn1992 - May 06, 2010 at 06:12 pm

It's ironic to me that folks are so quick to harp on the costs of running an athletic department when the number of $4.5 million dollars of "savings" for Hofstra's decision to drop football is allowed to stand unchallenged (even by the writer of this article).

Now, Hofstra's athletics program wasn't (and still isn't, despite the "savings" of dropping football) a department that "makes money". It survives, and will continue to survive, partially on institutional support.

However, the great majority of "money" "spent" on the football program is financial aid. Hofstra's tuition is $42,526 a year. Multiply that times 60, and you get a little over $2.5 million in scholarship money. (Money which - oh by the way - largely goes to folks who need full or partial assistance anyway, and goes to the most diverse team on campus.)

The only way you "save" money is if the money that would have been spent of football scholarships is now not being spent at all. Unless part of Hofstra's plan is to only admit kids that are willing to pay the full tuition (which, incidentally, has risen by over 100% - not a typo - in the last ten years) to replace the kids on scholarship, the savings will not be $4.5 million.

It is true that some of the "benefits" of an athletics program aren't easily translated into dollars on a balance sheet. But there are clearly benefits beyond dollars of a healthy athletics program that is graduating students and playing by the rules - which, by the way, are the great majority of athletics programs.

27. categorical - May 06, 2010 at 06:34 pm

I would like to see less of an emphasis on athletics. Student-athletes often drag my classes down. They often have bad attitudes, poor attendance and skill sets well below their non-athlete peers. I think that they undermine the mission of the university more than they advance it.

28. categorical - May 06, 2010 at 06:57 pm

I'll also add that I think that a majority of studnet-athletes are very poorly served by the universities that they attend.

29. happycamper1212 - May 07, 2010 at 02:38 pm

Let's put this into perspective a bit. The writer is at a university in which the football team is a drain and embarrassment. Too many athletes in our classes sense that they are celebrities rather than students. The faculty have indeed suggested dumping the football team. The president is an ex football player, and his administration also shows more of an inclination to adopt a celebrity mindset rather than a working class affiliation. They have reduced faculty and basically told faculty to shut up and suck it up. Football is treated here as if it were a plank of the mission statement, and the faculty recently voted no confidence in the essay's writer as a provost. This essay is an attempt to bolster a local administrative policy as though the Idaho State management model should be that for the entirety of higher education. It's a bit shameful to see the Chronicle used in this way. If you buy into the Idaho State model as a way to manage a university, be sure to purchase the Enron Handbook for Corporate Management and the Bernie Madoff Guide to Better Investing as suggested further reading.

30. 11159995 - May 07, 2010 at 06:36 pm

Let's see, the University of Chicago dropped football in 1939. How exactly did it suffer? Did bright students stop applying?

I graduated from Princeton in 1965. That was the last time Princeton had an undefeated football team and went to the NCAA Final Four in basketball. My support for the university has not decreased one iota because Princeton hasn't been at that level since.

Dr. Olson, methinks, has an exaggerated sense of how much athletics contributes to the academic side of university life. As a former varsity swimmer, I support athletics on campus, but not big-time athletics, which has a more corrupting than salutary influence on the character of a university as a whole. And I certainly do not like seeing swimming teams dropped in favor of football, as has happened at universities like Clemson, Rutgers, and Washington in recent years. What is so special about football?

--Sandy Thatcher

31. anahuacbob - May 09, 2010 at 09:09 pm

Just down the road from ISU is BYU-Idaho, which, as a condition of accreditation as a four-year university status in Idaho (a condition partially pushed by ISU) dropped its ENTIRE sports program. Instead, BYU Idaho adopted a sweeping athletics / arts program that uses money to involve all students in areas of physical activity or artistic expression. The result? Enrollment up from 8,000 to 13,000. Sounds like ISU needs to take a hint from former Harvard Business School leader Kim Clark now serving as the BYU Idaho president. It is a tiny, regional, religious school... but a few of the big kids on the block could learn a thing or two from the former Vikings.

32. ridpath696 - May 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Also Birmingham Southern went from Division I to Division III and dramatically increased enrollment and minority enrollment. The effects that Olsen touts are many times anecdotal and immeasurable. The hard data does not support his claims in the long term. This is a bad business model and everyone knows it. We can still have broad based athletics programs, but we will not have much of anything if we continue to spend unabated.

BTW this is Dave Ridpath from Ohio University--just to put my name out there like was asked.

33. zacry - May 10, 2010 at 08:44 pm

Tax the NFL and NBA for running their "farm systems". Be sure and tax enough to subsidize all academic programs and other small and "amatuer" sports. Give the scholarship athletes credits to earn their degree after their "full-time job" ends if necessary.

Other countries do fine in Olympic sports with club sport systems in the universities. Australia spends more on Olympic sports than we do (with >10x population differential). They have more sporting opportunities for the people (in college and in general), and I bet they have more student athletes in more sports.

What is the revenue stream to UCLA for the Pepsi (?) Invitational Track and Field meet, with all the international and Olympic stars? Could that model work to expand sporting at and for universities and the surrounding communities? Cities sponsoring pro beach-volleyball tournaments make money, right? It seems that universities could build courts, create club leagues, sponsor invitationals, bring in some stars for a clinic, and create "buzz", participation, and income(?) for pennies on the pro-sport investment dollar.

34. mrgiggs - May 17, 2010 at 12:10 pm

"I see no discussion of the quality of students who are recruited to play football at scholarship granting institutions."

It's hard to discuss something that doesn't exist ;)

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