Especially when the Kansas Jayhawks still are advancing through the NCAA basketball tournament, it’s hard to measure how much the team is worth to its fans and to Kansas University.
Last year’s national championship and this year’s surprisingly competitive team create many good feelings for the university. Those good feelings are said to translate into additional financial support for the KU athletics department and the university as a whole, but some recently released figures make university athletics spending look a little out of whack.
The value of a college basketball team may be hard to quantify, but Forbes magazine has given it a shot. According to an analysis released last week, the business publication ranks KU’s men’s basketball team as the fifth most valuable college team in the nation. In making its ranking, Forbes considered how much the basketball programs contribute to their universities, their athletic departments, their conferences and their local communities.
Unfortunately, the magazine didn’t break down all of those factors so they could be compared from school to school. The KU program was valued at $21.7 million and had operating income of $12.9 million. Licensing royalties for Final Four products alone totaled $2 million last year.
That contributed to $2.55 million in royalty revenue in 2007-08, Associate Athletics Director Jim Marchiony told the Journal-World last August. Of that amount, he said, about $700,000 would go to non-athletic scholarships at the university. By comparison, the University of North Carolina, which topped the Forbes ranking with a basketball team worth an estimated $25.9 million, dedicated $3.7 million in licensing royalties to non-athletic scholarships, according to the Forbes report.
Those contributions are nice, but they raise some questions about the relationship between athletic and academic funding. If the KU basketball team is worth $21.7 million, how much is the KU engineering school worth? How about the business school or nursing school? KU athletic teams obviously attract many financial contributions that help support non-revenue sports, but it’s not clear exactly how much those contributions add to the academic excellence of the university or the well-being of the state. At some point, it seems that the money being spent on athletics could actually detract from a university’s academic mission.
There’s no question that the Jayhawk basketball team brings considerable positive attention to KU and Kansas, but putting a dollar value on it and other college basketball teams across the country draws attention to what a big-money game college athletics has become. It’s a game in which KU has proven to be quite competitive in recent years, but the size of the investment it and other U.S. colleges are making in athletic programs could make some observers wonder just what those schools see as their primary mission.