Role of college athletics has become distorted


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

It is hard not to love college sports, especially if you are a student. The events provide not only a sense of excitement, but also of identity and community.

If you want an example, just think of the effect our victory over Michigan in 2007 has had on our campus over the years.

However, despite the importance of all of those positive aspects of college sports, it is becoming increasingly necessary to face the fact that the role of college sports in universities has become indefensibly distorted.

When you actually think about it, the fact that public universities are so heavily involved in commercialized sports seems strange.

Why do public universities, which are ostensibly defined by their public educational mission, so eager to embrace big time college sports? Why do they allow large commercialized sports entities to exist on their campuses and draw on university resources? In a report released in February, economists Allen Sanderson and John Siegfried posed these questions and provided some of the reasons this happens.

Some of the main reasons colleges court big time sports teams include: hope of greater state funding, increased private donations and increased enrollment.

Basically, it is about money, which I find incredibly sick. Why should educational institutions have to depend on something so removed from their actual mission for financial support?

The presumption that sports can bring money to universities turns out to be as wrong as it is disturbing. Sanderson and Siegfried, in pointing out these cases, also noted that the literature tends to show that college sports are frequently a poor means of generating revenue for schools.

In fact, they often end up costing schools. In 2013, the NCAA reported that only 20 schools in FBS actually brought in more money than they spent.

This causes universities to make up the difference in various ways, including student fees–and a lot of them.

That same year, a Bloomberg View article cited research from scholar Jeff Smith which showed that athletic fees collected by the NCAA from students at Division I schools came out to around $2 billion.

Since our move to Division I, we have already seen some of the troubling effects. Our athletic fee is one of the highest fees that we all, as students, pay.

Perhaps it is a bit soon to gauge the full effect of the conference change on the university, but already this semester we are faced with a potent symbol of the current system: Thursday night game day parking.

As Chancellor Everts said in a campus-wide email, there will be restrictions on student parking on campus the day of the game. The email suggested that, though it was not required, faculty should consider leaving early on those days.

That awkward and inconvenient plan epitomizes the distorted, intrusive role the current system of athletics holds at universities.

The NCAA is constantly making ludicrous claims to support its own power. The organization likes to maintain the value of amateurism while running what is clearly one of the most commercial sports enterprises in the country.

This is a situation that exacts costs from not only athletes, but also other university students and the general public. And throughout out all of it, the organization avoids accountability to those who support it.

The large sums of money generated make any voluntary change of the system unlikely, although I hope that will change.

Ultimately, I feel the best resolution of this situation would be to find a way to continue university athletics in a way that does not improperly interfere with the mission of universities.

In practical effect, that will probably mean either a dramatic reduction in the power of the NCAA or perhaps the complete abolition of that institution.

Given the rampant hypocrisy and parasitic practices of that organization, either outcome would be welcome.

I see no reason why we cannot retain the sense of fun and community that make sports such an important part of college under a different, more just system.

In the end, the system needs to change because, with a few highly-placed exceptions, the current system is harmful for everyone.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.