Where will it stop? Is there any ceiling on the ever-escalating spending on college sports? Is there any individual or organization that has the clout, respect and commitment to actually do something about the race among NCAA Division-I colleges to outspend one another in a quest for winning teams? Will college presidents ever say "enough is enough"?
There is a lot of nice-sounding talk about the need to get costs and spending under control, but, based on recent history, it is merely that: talk, with little action and no serious penalties for those who violate NCAA rules.
Earlier this week, members of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics released a report on the runaway spending on college sports.
The Knight Commission was formed in 1989 by the John and James K. Knight Foundation in response to more than a decade of highly visible scandals in collegiate sports.
The two Knight brothers, who put together the Knight newspaper group and now are deceased, were good friends of this writer and they were terribly concerned about the abuses taking place in intercollegiate sports. The goal of the commission was "to recommend a reform agenda that emphasized academic values in an arena where commercialization of college sports often overshadowed the underlying goals of higher education."
The Knights would be shocked, as well as saddened and disappointed, to see how this "commercialization of college sports" has escalated in recent years.
According to a Miami Herald report, "The Knight Commission received reports on three new financial studies commissioned by the NCAA that examined the operating revenues and expenditures on athletics facilities.
"Even without full costing of capital expenditures and staff compensation, the preliminary data showed that from 2001 to 2003 athletics spending grew at a rate four times faster than overall institutional spending."
Four times faster than overall institutional spending? Does that suggest something is out of line or that priorities are terribly skewed? Or is it proper, understandable and defensible that athletics receive such attention and support?
Those defending the dollars going into intercollegiate sports will say a large percentage of these dollars come from private gifting - not tax dollars - and that there's nothing wrong with alumni, friends and fans being that supportive of a school's sports program and so generous in their fiscal support. It just shows sports fans are likely to be far more enthusiastic of their support of a sports team than they are in supporting a school's history or English program.
The Herald story reported Wake Forest President Thomas K. Hearn Jr., chairing his first meeting of the Knight Commission, said the rate of growth for athletic spending could not be sustained.
"It's clear that all those interested in the future of intercollegiate athletics must find a way to bridle escalating expenses," he said.
A few weeks ago, NCAA officials, meaning college presidents and chancellors, OK'd adding a 12th game for their schools' football teams. These university executives tried to pooh-pooh any idea that the game was added to the season to make more money. At the same time, they made it easier for teams to qualify for bowl games and the big dollars coming from post-season appearances.
If college/university presidents really wanted to crack down on runaway spending on college sports, they could do it. They could tell athletic directors, coaches and fans, "enough is enough," perhaps set some kind of ceiling or cap on spending, just as some professional sports leagues have done and then have the courage to enforce the rules.
Intercollegiate sports are great if conducted within reasonable parameters. The problem is who or what office can make sure everyone is playing by the rules? Should there be a limit on what can be spent on an intercollegiate sports program? In recent years, it seems to have gotten totally out of hand.
Hearn said, "As the Knight Commission indicated recently in opposing the addition of a 12th Division IA football game, we cannot resolve our fiscal challenges by burdening athletes with an additional game to generate revenue. Policy decisions, such as spending allocations and the numbers of games in a season, must be based on what is best for the academic and physical well-being of our athletes."
More of the same, nice-sounding words, but does another football game improve the "academic well-being" of the athletes? The chancellors, presidents, athletic directors and coaches all want the additional game. They all want the additional game, and the added dollars to help build their programs.
How may of the dollars generated by an athletic program are plowed back into a university's academic program, new buildings, new laboratories, etc.? Some may point to the academic tutoring programs at most major schools - and this is great for the athletes - but in all honesty, the primary motive of these efforts is to keep players eligible.
Again, intercollegiate sports are a healthy part of the university scene. They add a great deal to stimulate alumni and fan interest and support of a college or university. Likewise, a winning athletic program is helpful in attracting students.
There are many good things about a well-balanced intercollegiate sports program, but the way things are going with the almighty dollar calling the shots and no indication that anyone is able to control this spending frenzy, it is likely to grow worse before anything of substance is done to corral the current imbalance of priorities and spending.
¢ By the way, members of the Knight Commission include Hearn, president of Wake Forest University; R. Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University; Michael Adams, president of the University of Georgia; Carol Cartwright, president of Kent State University; Elson Flood, president of the University of Missouri system; Adam Herbert, president of Indiana University; Peter Likins, president of the University of Arizona; Harold Shapiro, president emeritus of Princeton University and three people without university affiliations.
It would seem these college presidents could set an example among themselves and their universities to show the way for other universities, chancellors, presidents and athletic directors on how to control spending and make sure "commercialization of college sports" does not "overshadow the underlying goals of higher education."