Addressing Oft-Said Myths About College Athletics
College athletics have come constantly under criticism. That’s especially true now, when schools and conferences have canceled their fall seasons due to COVID concerns. But sports will eventually return on college campuses. Several myths will need to be dispelled. I will cover a few in this post.
A college would be less expensive if it does not play scholarship varsity sports.
If this were true then schools would price tuition and fees to reflect the lack of scholarships as well as lower salaries for coaches.
But if you compare campuses of state schools or private schools that fall into a similar category, you’ll find that charges are not significantly different.
For example, the College of New Jersey and Ramapo College of New Jersey, both public schools, do not play scholarship varsity sports. Yet they charge no less than Rutgers’ main campus in New Brunswick, which does. And students who attend Rutgers at Newark, which also plays no scholarship sports, pay the same as students at the flagship campus.
But other states, Virginia being one example, have schools that compete at a non-scholarship level in sports and also charge less than the flagships (UVa., Virginia Tech, William and Mary).
Among private schools, as one example, Duke, Emory and Vanderbilt have about the same number of undergraduates. Duke and Vanderbilt compete in scholarship sports at the highest level. Emory does not. Yet these three schools, often shopped against each other, charge about the same.
All of the schools that play varsity scholarship sports force you to pay high athletic fees.
Different schools set their own policies for college athletics. Some charge an athletic fee and admits students for free to all sports events. Others have lotteries and give them the “privilege” of paying for tickets. Other schools charge for tickets or sports ticket packages. If you want to know how you will cover these costs, you can actually find out when you take a campus tour. Either the students are fans or the admissions office has given them the information.
Non-scholarship schools typically admit students for free, but the costs of providing the sport are covered in tuition and/or student fees. There are still costs, the field of play, concessions, coaches salaries, insurance, health and nutrition support, among others, that must be covered somehow. No school that fields a varsity athletic team wants to scrimp on these things.
A major investment in a scholarship football program will always diminish the reputation of the school and compromise the finances of the school as well as the athletic department
“Always” is the problem word. The key is to win and fill a stadium or arena as best you can with a winning team. Fielding losing teams in the major revenue sports will not leave money to help improve the non-revenue teams. At state schools it might also hinder recruiting.
Suppose the football and basketball teams are losers at a large state school on the field and at the gate. The athletic department is pressured to drop non-revenue sports, no matter their record. If the school decides not to drop a sport it might be limited to awarding scholarships to resident students. The tuition and fees for the non-residents may be too high for the athletic department to bother. Or the athletic department may be forced to seek subsidies to keep these sports, as Rutgers has done when the football and men’s basketball teams played poorly.
All of the students on athletic scholarships or admitted with athletics as a “hook” do not belong at their schools. They have weaker academic records than the non-athletes in the student body.
In many cases this is true for football and men’s basketball, sometimes hockey or lacrosse. Beyond the major revenue sports the student-athletes will usually have academic records similar to their peers who do not play a sport.
Visit a school such as Rutgers-New Brunswick and you will find that most of the members of the golf or tennis teams, as two examples, will have fine academic records. Athletes often graduate on time at faster rates than non-athletes because they are forced to work on a schedule and learn how to manage their time and physical conditioning.
In college athletics non-revenue sports might be a waste of time and money.
It could be argued that colleges do not “need,” for example, a cross country, golf or tennis team. The team makes no money for the school.
However, schools continue to compete in some sports for several reasons. Sometimes the team has had tremendous success (such as Penn State at fencing or Wake Forest at golf) and that reflects well upon the school. Sometimes the sport is popular at the high school level in the region where the college recruits the most students (such as lacrosse in Maryland); a following for the team will also generate a following for the school.
The high-paid football and basketball coaches are under pressure to win, but the other coaches are not.
In college athletics, as in other levels of sports, coaches always want to win, hopefully keep a team healthy and solid citizens as well. The football and basketball coaches have to make impressions not only on the athletic director, but also the media and the fan base for the team.
However, the right person can survive a losing season if a past history of winning or other factors, such as a popular coach, offset a poor performance, while the school is not likely to quit playing the sport. One thing that I have learned: a coach will not usually survive more than three consecutive losing seasons in football at the highest level. The potential return on the sport is too great while a school does not want to consistently be out of the bowl picture.
But the coach of a non-revenue team must win in order to make a positive impression on the athletic director. The athletic director has the authority to drop a non-competitive, non-revenue producing team. S/he does not want to do this. It would be a very unpopular decision that reduces the number of scholarships for men and women alike.
I have never been a great athlete, but I enjoy watching college football and basketball. I realize that others don’t care about these sports and that their presence could have an impact on the choice of a college. Personally, I prefer a school that has a history of winning at most sports. Winning reflects positively on the attitudes of the students who compete as well as their friends who watch them.
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