Ohio University economics professor decries 'athletics arms race'

An Ohio University economics professor warned that universities are in an “athletics arms race,” spending “exponentially” more on sports than on education.

Richard Vedder, who also directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and serves as an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, warned that schools spent more on athletics for two reasons: they “calculate that athletic spending will lead to more victories, and with that more revenue” and “they gamble that the spending will improve national name recognition and enhance student admissions demand, improving the school's reputation.”

While he conceded that there are some exceptions—such as the University of Texas, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and University of Southern California—the spending usually doesn’t pay off in the way the universities had hoped.

Citing the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, Vedder noted that 90 of the top 100 athletic powers in the football subdivision saw spending rise 8 percent per student from 2005-2011. During that same period spending rose 38 percent per athlete. In fact, spending per student at these schools in 2011 was one-seventh of athletics spending per athlete.

Many schools have increased their spending with no corresponding athletic success or increase in national rankings, such as Rutgers University, which dropped from 58th place in 2005 to 69th in 2011. Vedder’s own university suffered the same fate, dropping from 98th to 124th—and it has dropped even further in the last two years.

“No school will unilaterally disarm, and the solution will probably have to be imposed from outside,” Vedder writes. Instead, Vedder suggests that federal income tax deductions could be removed for gifts meant for athletic facilities and programs and state governments might work to limit what portion of their subsidies could be devoted to athletics.

He concedes that such solutions “may be politically unfeasible,” but argues that “the next time you hear business and political leaders decry the costs of U.S. higher education and shaky academic standards, remember: That touchdown wasn't free.”

Via Bloomberg View

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