Losing game: Win at all costs
Eighty thousand paying spectators times $50 a ticket equals $4 million. Add rising broadcast and merchandising revenue, and you need not be a math major to figure out that major college football is an increasingly high-stakes game.
Yet some schools are losing money in this frantic competition. Indeed, as Isle of Palms resident Gene Budig points out in a column on today’s Commentary page, many “struggle to break even.”
Mr. Budig has been in charge of universities and of baseball’s American League. So he brings a wide-ranging perspective to college sports — and warns that “much is amok” in that realm.
For instance, while many universities have cut academic programs over the past decade, there has been a building boom in sports facilities — and a steep climb in coaches’ salaries.
South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier is making more than $3 million a year to coach the football Gamecocks. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney must get by on a mere $2 million or so — though perhaps this is a fitting gap considering that he is now riding a four-game losing streak against Coach Spurrier.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban, who has won two national titles in the last three seasons, is tops in salary at $5.5 million.
However, now that the NCAA has enacted a recruiting “deregulation” that will allow full-time “player personnel departments” beyond the coaching staffs, a fresh big-spending battle looms on the crucial front of landing top high school talent.
Though Coach Swinney has established a reputation as a strong recruiter, he’s wary about this change, telling our Travis Sawchik: “We’ve talked about saving money, so this doesn’t make any sense.”
Unfortunately, the NCAA — major college sports’ governing body — has made a habit of not making sense. It routinely issues inconsistent rulings, punishing seemingly minor offenses harshly while responding to seemingly severe ones with figurative slaps on wrists.
The NCAA’s long-low credibility sank even deeper last week: The news broke that the NCAA’s vice president of enforcement will resign by March 1 after using “tainted information” in the investigation of Miami University’s athletic program. NCAA President Mark Emmert called the situation “an embarrassment.”
College administrators who keep letting the sports tail wag the academic dog should be embarrassed, too.
As Coach Swinney described the NCAA’s “deregulation,” scheduled to take effect on Aug. 1: “You are going to have programs that already have enormous support staffs, now those guys are going to be able to recruit. Everybody is evaluating, recruiting, calling, texting. There’s no limits.”
And there will be no effective limits on college sports’ money-fueled excesses until university presidents re-assert their proper authority.
Otherwise, the lowest common denominator of winning at all costs in the athletic arena will keep sacking the proper purposes at institutions of higher learning.