Monday, June 11, 2012

Transparency in College Athletics

I explain that college athletics are not going anywhere anytime soon, however, that means a need for greater transparency and accountability:
The money involved is significant. According to an analysis from USA Today, from 2004 to 2010 CU Athletics received $33.3 million (inflation-adjusted) in direct university support, or about 12.4 percent of the total athletics budget over that time period. A recent report from Bloomberg found that CU students in the year 2010-2011 paid $625.58 each to subsidize the athletic department, a number exceeded in the Pac-12 only by Oregon State and Washington State. Washington and UCLA students contributed the least in the conference, about $100 per student, and Stanford, a private university, did not provide their spending.
The op-ed was motivated by some comments made by one of our university administrators, defending the news reported earlier this month that the Athletic department had received a $10 million low-interest loan from within the university, as well as a $3 million gift:
Frances Draper, CU vice chancellor for strategic relations, said the loan is scheduled to be paid back in six years at 2 percent interest. Draper said the loan did not have to be approved by the Board of Regents because eight years ago that panel gave schools the discretion to make internal loans without regent approval.

Draper said no tuition dollars were used for the loan or the $6 million in gifts. She said the funds come from interest earnings. Draper said faculty groups were made aware of the assistance the campus and system gave to the athletic department and they raised no objections to it because there was widespread approval by the faculty for the switch in conference affiliation.

"The campus and system saw the overall value of going to the Pac-12 because it is much more consistent with our alumni footprint and with our research collaborations," Draper said. "We do a lot with Cal. We do a lot with UCLA and Washington. We were already in joint research agreements with a lot of them. ...

"The faculty overall were pretty darn supportive of moving over to the Pac-12."
I will resist the urge to argue concepts such as opportunity costs and participatory governance to the vice chancellor, but suffice it to say that her comments were not well received by at least a few on the faculty.

My call for a bit more transparency here is not particularly radical -- we should simply to treat athletics in a manner comparable to other organizations under university governance.  Here is another excerpt from the op-ed:
CU-Boulder is like most major universities in that revenue-raising activities that involve entertainment are common parts of our incredibly wide-ranging portfolio of activities, which include the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the Artist Series from the College of Music. And of course, almost all of the research done on campus is funded through external sources based on then entrepreneurial successes of the faculty. So athletics is not unique in its need to raise funds to operate.

Similarly, the athletic department is not unique on campus in receiving subsidies from elsewhere on campus. Last year, the Law School spent $1.7 million more than it took in, and the College of Music $4.4 million and the College of Engineering $6.1 million. Such deficits are problematic because there is not a lot of money to go around. Over 2007-2012, state support to higher education in Colorado dropped by 13 percent, according to data from Illinois State University, and faculty recently went several years without raises.

With respect to the Law School deficit Regent Steve Bosley said, "The law students -- as a body -- are probably going to make more money than any other group on campus. Why should the other students be subsidizing a group that has a greater lifetime earning?" The same question might be asked of the campus subsidy to athletics, given that those resources are going to a tiny subset of students.

Decision making related to athletics is typically kept far from the faculty, and operates from within its own cocoon within the university bureaucracy. I am surely typical of most of my peers on the faculty in learning of the most recent gift and loan to the athletic department via the pages of the Daily Camera. This separation may make sense as big-time college athletics -- specifically men's football and basketball -- today have far more in common with their professional counterparts than with faculty in various departments on campus.

Yet, even as we recognize the tradition, uniqueness and importance of college athletics, it is precisely because of these values that the enterprise should be opened up to a greater degree of transparency and accountability in the broader university environment. CU is far from alone in this regard, but like others across the nation, has a long way to go.
Read the whole op-ed here.


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