Archive for Saturday, December 2, 2006

Simons: Spending on college sports overshadows academic mission

December 2, 2006


Bill Self is a good man, a good coach. He reflects credit on Kansas University, its basketball program and the game of basketball. To show the university's appreciation for the job he is doing and to prevent him from considering more financially attractive positions at other schools, KU officials - Athletic Director Lew Perkins and Chancellor Robert Hemenway - earlier this week raised Self's annual paycheck from $1.3 million to $1.6 million. And there are incentives that could mean additional dollars.

Faculty members, players, alumni and others associated with schools where Self coached prior to coming to Mount Oread may have knowledge of some weakness or behavior that, in their eyes, was not correct but, overall, Self is a top-flight individual. He behaves in a proper manner, and it is believed he plays by the rules. The three most recent KU basketball coaches - Larry Brown, Roy Williams and now Bill Self - all were winners and did a great job for KU, its basketball program and the state.

All this noted, there is something terribly out of balance relative to college basketball and intercollegiate sports in general. In fact, this is true in all phases of sports, collegiate or professional, and the many business alliances with sports.

At the college level, it may be called "intercollegiate amateur sports," but it is BIG business in every sense. The dollars are huge, and the bigger the dollars, the more clout individuals involved in sports have in the game.

Chancellors and college presidents can claim they are keeping tight control of the embarrassing money arms race in NCAA Division I collegiate sports, but that's a joke. What chancellor or president has exhibited the backbone to call a stop to the ever-escalating salaries and fringe benefits being given to college coaches and some of the ego-driven athletic directors? Talk is cheap. Where is the action?

In a way, the coaches shouldn't be faulted if the market and competition for good coaches is so great that their price tags continue to rise year by year. Are they supposed to say, "No, thanks, I've already got a good enough compensation package. I don't need any more"?

Sports nuts among university alumni want a winning program. Chancellors want a winning program because they claim, sometimes correctly, that winning programs help raise private fiscal support for their schools. Most everyone likes to brag about a winning program.

However, too many chancellors talk out of both sides of their mouths, stressing the "student-athlete" label, pointing out that athletes graduate at higher rates than non-athlete students. Why shouldn't these athletes have better grade point averages or graduate at a higher rate when millions of dollars and hundreds of hours are spent tutoring them to keep them eligible to perform on the basketball court or football field? Ordinary students don't receive such help.

Is there any way to stop the totally out-of-control, money-driven intercollegiate sports situation? There are bigger stadiums, more luxury suites, bigger weight rooms, fancier locker rooms and various pressure tactics to force ticket holders to pay more for their stadium or arena seats.

Chancellors acknowledge there is a problem, but no one steps up to place a brake on this runaway, hungry and uncontrolled money train. The NCAA, the governing body for intercollegiate sports, talks a good game, but its bark is far bigger than its bite. They can pass out penalties, as they did against KU, for a lack of "institutional control," and take away a few scholarships, but that's about it. It is interesting KU received this slap on the wrist just after Chancellor Hemenway stepped down as chairman of the Division I NCAA schools.

Sports are great, and they can and do add a great deal to the overall college scene. They help generate enthusiasm among alumni and stimulate interest in the school. Some alumni and friends show their appreciation for a good sports program by making generous contributions to the school, and sports provide a means for many young, athletically talented men and women to be exposed to a college education.

But anything can be carried to an extreme, and this seems to be the case today with the money side of college sports.

As former KU Chancellor Gene Budig said in a recent column in the Journal-World, "NCAA president Miles Brand faces a very real arms race, one fueled by an insatiable appetite for college athletics among students, alumni and the general public. Fiscal restraint is infrequently in evidence." He said Brand has been asked to "hold off an unruly mob with a switch."

Budig quoted what former University of Michigan President James Duderstadt said: "The simplest way to characterize the problem with college sports is to recognize that it is a very profitable commercial entertainment business that is moving farther and farther away from its original academic purposes of the university."

Again, Bill Self is a top-flight individual. In his line of work, he is recognized as one of the best. It is hoped he will run the KU basketball program in a manner than can and should be used as a model for other college basketball teams.

Chancellor Hemenway and a number of alumni made the decision some years ago to raise much more money to elevate the KU intercollegiate program. KU's budget for sports did not stack up well with other Big 12 schools such as the Texas schools, Oklahoma and Nebraska. A new athletic director was hired with one of the highest salaries of any U.S. college athletic director and was given the green light to raise the bucks to improve facilities and pay coaches competitive salaries. He has done a good job in this department, but he has made poor marks in public relations. Time will tell whether this will have a lasting good or negative impact on the school and in the eyes of alumni and faculty. Hemenway has given his full support to Perkins' plans, although many in the faculty are highly critical. Again, time will tell.

Faculty members are bothered by the emphasis school administrators are placing on sports and are quick to suggest the athletic department is the tail wagging the dog. They wish there could be a better balance in the administration's efforts to build the excellence of the athletic program and the efforts to build excellence in teaching and research at the school. To which the chancellor is likely to respond by pointing to his goal of raising $300 million or more for the KU School of Medicine and other academic programs at KU. Even so, the interest and support of athletics is out of balance.

Few teachers, researchers or chancellors come anywhere close to making the $1 million-plus contract package enjoyed by those on the athletic side of the university, and there are few fiscal incentive packages for teachers and researches that match the incentive packages for coaches and ADs, along with free cars, club memberships, insurance policies, deferred compensation and other goodies.

Congratulations to Bill Self for his new contract. He is an excellent asset for the university. However, some way needs to be devised to get a handle on the monetary arms race between the athletic departments of many NCAA Division I schools. As it is today, it is out of control.


Mike Blur 11 years, 6 months ago

First step to rein in profligate spending on college athletics - make the revenue stream taxable. Few people realize that revenues generated by NCAA athletics are tax exempt, which is the primary reason why you see inflated salaries, ticket prices and escalating spending. The only way to curb spending on NCAA athletics is with a de facto "spending cap" similar to salary caps in the NFL and NBA.

It ain't gonna happen though, ever. So Saturday columns such as this one are on the surface a nice effort, but ultimately a waste of bytes and newsprint.

wagenseil 11 years, 6 months ago

Well, Dolph is right on target this time! Suppose that's why I still keep reading this thing.

Meanwhile, does anyone out there in LJW-blog-o-sphere know whether contributions specifically for the KU athletic programs are tax-deductible? I know general contributions to KU are (and tickets aren't), but are the contributions that are specifically directed to athletics? [this is a real question, not flame-bait (which will come later...): I'm too lazy to try to figure it out myself]

And meanwhile, take a gander at the KU faculty salaries LJW so helpfully posted a few months back and compare the salaries of the top researchers in Med Center with those in the athletic programs. When the choice is trying to beat cancer and diabetes, or trying to beat Mizzou, KU's priorities are real clear...

crono 11 years, 6 months ago

Yup. Just need to comment, like a broken record :-), that as a graduate teaching assistant, I am expected to pay for my own paper to print off material I need for the classes I teach. We also came within a hair's breadth of having our anti-plagiarism software subscription cancelled because the Provost didn't think the University could pay for it. Graduate students are expected to generate top-quality research and present it at major academic conferences (typically one or two a year), yet receive almost no travel funding ($400 ONCE during an entire graduate career, master's and Ph.D.) to do so.

In contrast, take a look at the INCREASES in salary that the University gave Mangino and Self this year... not even taking into account their base salary.

I agree with the above poster: KU's priorities are REALLY clear.

speedykitty 11 years, 6 months ago

Yes, it all seems so out of proportion. And, the guy that is on the field or court, receiving injuries, minor and sometimes regrettably, life threatening, doesn't get a dime.

Since college sports is such big business, it does seem there should be, at least, a carefully administered stipend to all of the participants risking their life and limb.

canyon_wren 11 years, 6 months ago

Great column, Mr. Simons! Not that it will make a whole lot of difference, but I am so glad you took the time to spell it out.

Richard Wade 11 years, 6 months ago

Mr. Simmons. Do you read your own paper? How many inches cover KU athletics? How many inches cover KU teaching and research? I tend to agree that athletics receive too much attention but I have to laugh when journalists are the ones on the soap box talking about it. And why aren't you questioning the "academic" side of the university for not providing the same support to students that the athletic department provides. They've proven it increases student success and shouldn't that be what the university is about?

Mike Blur 11 years, 6 months ago

Bankboy, you're wrong (as usual) the NCAA's revenues has been tax exempt since the late 30s. (E.g. since the NCAA has been in existence.)

I will direct you to:

it's the first of dozens of links on Google where Congress is looking into revoking the NCAA's longstanding tax exempt status. Please, bankboy, in response, provide me with a link anywhere that says that the NCAA has filed for tax exempt status "last week."

I'll be waiting for your response.

Jamesaust 11 years, 6 months ago

Two things:

(A) This phenomena is connected to the larger world. Its not isolated to collegiate sports. The factors that make these programs 'big money' are the same that influence professional sports as well, particularly technology. The KU game will be carried on ESPN-U, a cable/satellite channel that wouldn't have even existed a few years back. Money will flow to the program, the university, from advertisers to the network owners, people far, far away who never would have seen the game will be able to -- all without any significant effort more than would have gone into a game 10, 20, or even 50 years ago. (True also beyond sports to entertainment and corporate business.)

(B) The regulatory boundaries that provide balance to such situations disrupted by technology need to adjust with the times. In the case of collegiate sports, the emphasis will have to rebalance the scholar aspect with the athlete aspect. The easiest way to do that is to require all collegiate players to sign away any right to monetize the atheticism without meeting a minimum scholarship standard. For example, one might require all NCAA players to enter into a contract requiring graduation before they can 'go pro.' That would (a) ensure some minimal academic effort and (b) eliminate this phenomena of using college solely as a temporary training opportunity for the professionals. Would the NCAA have the balls to do it? Nope. Less money and attention for the 'non-profit' NCAA and their member schools.

guesswho 11 years, 6 months ago

Yes, salaries of head coaches (not assistants - they make next to nothing) are inflated. So are CEOs of companies. I also wonder what Dolph makes compared to the people writing his story and delivering newspapers at 4 am.

Lee Saylor 11 years, 6 months ago

In response to 'nschmi04 (anonymous) on December 2, 2006 at 8:42 a.m.': Ever hear of Simons Laboratories on KU's West Campus? Dolph 'is' putting his money where his mouth is.

bankboy119 11 years, 6 months ago

um...mike actually the NCAA is not tax exempt as of now. They just filed for tax exempt status last week I believe.

beatrice 11 years, 6 months ago

ns04: "GTA's don't generate money." ?!? Are you kidding me? GTAs teach classes with 100 + students -- all of whom are paying full tuition for the class, while the GTA's salary is at a bare minimum. If it weren't for the GTAs teaching classes with too many students, the university wouldn't be able to afford their "star" instructors who make upwards of 10 times or more what a GTA makes, all the while teaching just one class a semester with only a handful of students per class.

It is really quite simple: if GTAs didn't generate money, the university wouldn't have so many of them.

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