By Laura Pappano
The frenzy of conference switching (Colorado, Utah, Nebraska plus others at least thinking about it), has caused a stir for one reason: Colleges fret that if the future really is about a few megaconferences that some schools will be big winners (measured in TV dollars and bowl berths) and others will be big losers (also-rans with expensive football programs that get little attention).
The college hosting of football is really higher education’s form of gambling. Most DI football teams in the country lose money. The question for AD’s: Can your college have a team that actually brings in cash?
When colleges get anxious, however, we don’t hear about this. We hear instead about how Title IX makes it hard for them to “compete.” Title IX, in this instance and others, is a favorite target of blame. But here’s a reality check: Title IX may be the only thing enforcing a semblance of sanity.
Title IX is carrying the burden of challenging an out-of-whack athletic culture. Title IX is all that reminds or enforces the broader belief that college sports are – indeed – played at colleges and must be rooted in a sense of equity and values other than cash and winning.
Consider that there is no law demanding equal opportunity – or spending – for athletes and non-athletes. (A new Knight Commission report shows that from 2005 to 2008 that median spending per athlete increased by 38 percent over that time to $84,446 while median spending per student increased just 20 percent to $13,349.) Report link here.
Title IX is not the “problem” but the levy against the flood. (Read a good Marquette faculty law blogpost here).
The real problems? Try these:
- The NFL uses colleges as a farm team. With the fluid movement of coaches between the NFL and college ranks, we are ensured that colleges will seek to install NFL-like “systems,” build reputations based on their connections with professional teams (also useful in recruiting), and create programs that operate according to standards that are friendly to broadcasters.
- Donors are allowed to buy (or partially buy, leaving colleges to cover the rest) expensive athletes-only facilities and enhancements aimed at winning national titles and recognition (see point 1). For examples, see the University of Oregon’s “Jock Box” or T. Boone Pickens Stadium (and influence) at Oklahoma.
- Excessive focus on athletic school profiles in college marketing and the perception that kids are choosing colleges based on sports (as fans). The media attention given top football programs (and to a lesser extent basketball programs), eclipses the recognition that these big sports schools might get for their research successes.
- Football conference alliances may not reflect broader university needs or values. Just because football teams match up or fit well in a particular conference does not mean that this high profile tie – which requires university resources to maintain – serves the needs of academic departments or research interests. And then there is the reality that football players may not accurately reflect the student body – either academically or in terms of behavior – creating two sets of standards, one for real students and one for students whose main job is to entertain everybody else on Saturdays.