A number of news stories in recent weeks reported various athletic directors at major state-aided universities expressing serious doubts about the continued viability of the NCAA unless there are “sweeping changes.” Commissioners for the five major football conferences have called for major reforms that would allow universities in their conferences, schools that have the resources, to have more freedom to determine how they may use these resources.
The NCAA used to merit the respect of the so-called amateur collegiate athletic world, but, over the years, the term “amateur” has come to describe various forms of professionalism, and the NCAA has lost respect and clout.
A large percentage of the public has been turned off by the almost uncontrolled spending in collegiate athletics, with athletic departments at many universities engaging in an arms race to see who can build the finest, largest and most modern facilities to attract the star athletes who are necessary to build winning programs and pay higher salaries to coaches, which, in turn, will attract more fans and more lucrative television payoffs.
Chancellors, presidents, regents and curators, and even state legislators, call for restraint on athletic spending, but there is little they can do other than say nice-sounding, hollow phrases.
College sports at Division I NCAA schools have taken over and are controlled by ESPN, the major television networks, advertisers, manufacturers of sports apparel such as Nike, Adidas and others. Starting times and days for football and basketball games are determined by ESPN and other television networks that compete with one another for television and broadcast rights for various conferences and for post-season bowl games.
Again, chancellors can deny there is an overemphasis on sports, but evidence shows otherwise.
At a time when the academic side of most major public universities is experiencing severe fiscal restraints, athletic departments at many of these schools are engaged in major and costly building projects and extending million-dollar contracts to their coaches.
Here in Kansas, Kansas University officials are trying to get the Kansas Board of Regents and state legislators to approve funds for construction of medical school facilities at Wichita and at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. Kansas State officials want added fiscal support for a new business school building, and officials at both schools want increased funding for faculty salaries.
The academic sides of these two universities tell a sad story and claim the schools will be severely damaged in many ways if there is not significant fiscal relief. They warn of the loss of talented faculty, reduced student enrollment and subsequent damages to the state.
Nevertheless, the athletic departments at both schools currently are engaged in major, costly expansion projects. And KU soon will be announcing plans, and cost estimates, for a large expansion and renovation of Memorial Stadium. Also, there’s a good chance additional projects will be announced.
Collegiate athletics are great, but it no longer is the amateur sports of years past. It is BIG, BIG business, and, in many ways, it is the tail that wags the university.
Alumni, fans of a university and certainly the chancellors and presidents like to field winning teams. Members of the Board of Regents enjoy invitations from the chancellors and presidents to accept priority seating and enjoy refreshments at popular football and basketball games. Students enjoy the excitement of pre-game activities and rivalries with other schools.
Imagine what could be accomplished with the academic achievement of a general student body if the nonathlete students, the average students, received a fraction of the care and special attention, tutors and other benefits that athletes receive.
What if talented high school students were recruited as tenaciously as star football, basketball and tennis players, track and field competitors and other athletes? Is as much effort made to recruit all-star faculty members as athletic officials make in identifying and recruiting potentially great athletes as early as junior high or middle school?
Again, athletics add much to the overall university scene, but the NCAA and university chancellors have lost control. It’s an arms race. There’s no end in sight, and chancellors and presidents have done little to stop the runaway athletic train.