I like college sports, but the problem with them (as with so many other things) is that they don’t stand on their own feet. They’re subsidized — by students through mandatory fees and taxpayers though appropriations to help build stadiums, palatial training facilities, and so on.
In this Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins looks at the troubles caused by letting the sports tail wag the college dog.
One problem is that the pressure to win causes college admission and academic standards to fall. The University of North Carolina caught national attention when it came to light that it had been letting star players take bogus courses for years. The NCAA is mulling over penalties. (Interestingly, the accrediting body that is supposed to ensure UNC’s quality, SACS, never noticed this problem.) UNC got caught, but many other universities that chase glory on the gridiron and court do the same thing.
Big sports schools often say that athletics revenues actually help pay for the rest of the university, but that just isn’t so. One thing the boosters leave out is the subsidies that football and basketball get from mandatory student fees, which are pretty substantial. Every student at UNC-Greensboro (a school of no sporting fame) pays more than $700 per year to support athletics. Those students might have better things to do with that money.
What can be done? A small number of schools have downsized sports so that they don’t have a malign effect, but we shouldn’t expect much of that. “Reform,” Watkins writes, “may have to come from state policymakers and college leaders, who are free to set their own standards regarding athletes’ academic eligibility and to create an environment in which college sports are truly amateur and secondary to education. If they do nothing, or pay only lip service to the importance of amateurism, the current system will remain, and its costs will continue to be borne by students, the public, and athletes.”
I’d suggest two basic rules in this regard: No preferential treatment for athletes and sports must cover their own costs.