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Is the “Education” in Higher Education Even Relevant Any Longer?


Josh Samuels is a junior at Ohio State University.  He recently told a New York Times reporter that he made his decision to attend college there when he attended a football game back in November, 2007, when he attended a football game in Columbus with Illinois as the opponent.  He was taken in by the scope and pageantry of the game played before a crowd of over 100,000 fans.

Tim Collins is a junior at Ohio State and the president of Block O, the 2,500 member student fan organization, said much the same thing.  He told the reporter that the reason he applied to the school was “60 percent for the sports”.

Ohio State boasts that it has 17 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, three Nobel laureates, 8 Pulitzer Prize winners, 35 Guggenheim Fellows and a MacArthur winner among its alumni and current and former faculty members.  Yet sports seem to rule at the school whose athletic department budget is some $120 million per year.

The school recently hired Urban Meyer as its head football coach.  He will be paid some $4 million per year in base salary plus bonuses such as $250,000 for getting the team into a BCS National Championship Game.  He also has use of a private jet owned by the university.  Gordon Asbrecht is a physics professor at Ohio State.  He said the Times reporter, “It’s not, Oh yeah, Ohio State, that wonderful physics department.  It’s football”.  Dr. Asbrecht went on to say that his department did not have money in its budget to pay for attendance at professional conferences.  He admitted that he can understand from a business perspective why Coach Meyer was hired; but he said his payment package is just one more example of the “tail wagging the dog”.

James J. Duderstadt is a former president of the University of Michigan and the author of an article entitled “Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University”.  He told the Times reporter that nine out of ten people don’t understand what a research university is; but  if he says “Michigan” to a person he or she will immediately identify with those blue helmets with the maize stripes running onto the field at Michigan Stadium.

Widmeyer Communications did a survey in November, 2011 after the scandal had broken at Penn State involving allegations of sexual abuse by a former assistant football coach and a lack of efforts by Coach Joe Paterno and others at the university to respond to a report of an incident in the school’s football facility back in 2002.  Some 83 percent of respondents blamed the “culture of big money” in college sports for fostering the scandal.  In addition, 40 percent said they would discourage their child from choosing to attend a Division I institution “that places a strong emphasis on sports” and 72 percent said Division I sports has “too much influence over college life”.

In China and Europe college campuses don’t have huge athletic facilities dominating their campuses.  The focus is on going to school to get an education.  Only in the United States do we have a culture of sports that dominates many college campuses.  There is an article in a recent edition of the publication, Athletic Business, that analyzes the career of college administrator named Rick Creehan.  He has worked at four small, liberal arts colleges in the Midwest where he has been involved in athletics.  He has developed and implemented plans that use the growth of athletic teams on a campus and the construction of new and renovated athletic facilities as a means to increase growth and revenue

Creehan has been able to use the expansion of athletic facilities for varsity and recreational athletes as a means to increase enrollment and funding.   He calls his plan an “admissions yield model” that uses additional spots on athletic rosters to generate additional tuition revenues, that in turn creates interest for prospective students and leads to increased student applications.  This success creates a positive atmosphere that in turn leads to increased fundraising.   To read the entire story go to http://athleticbusiness.com/articles/article.aspx?articleid=3841&zoneid=15.

A recent study at the University of Oregon looked at student grades from 1999 to 2007 and compared them to wins by the school’s football team.  The study concluded that there was a positive correlation in that as wins increased there was a slight decrease in student grades.  The study also found that this was most pronounced among male students.

Another study looked at teams in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament and tracked articles downloaded from the school’s library website during the tournament.  The author found that 6% fewer articles were downloaded at a school while its team was in the tournament.  On the day after an upset or close win there was a 19% decrease in articles downloaded.

A 2010 Knight Commission report found that Big 10 schools spent a median of $111,620 per athlete (members of its varsity teams) versus a total of $18,406 per student on academics.  The same study noted that Big 10 schools in 2009 spent a median of $98 million on athletics as opposed to $69 million only four years earlier.

College athletics not only commands much more money than it did just a few years ago but demands more of its fans’ time.  Schools competing in the BCS National Championship Game have in the past few years cancelled some classes on the day of the game or even delayed the opening of a semester for a couple of days (Alabama in January, 2010).  ESPN has regular TV broadcasts of college football games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights that requires adjustments in campus schedules to accommodate fans coming the games.  College basketball games routinely start at 9:00 PM on weeknights to fit into TV schedules.

Public colleges and universities in particular are facing greater scrutiny about how they spend money on athletics.  At a time when state money available to higher education is rapidly shrinking and tuitions are skyrocketing many people are angered by the rapid increases in spending on college athletics.  The time may be near when some state legislatures are going to start looking to micromanage athletic spending.

High schools are not immune to these issues.  Many people point to the Allen, Texas school district as an example of misplaced priorities.  This fall the system will open the high school’s new $60 million 18,000 seat football stadium.  Many high schools now send their football and basketball teams jetting across the country to play in games televised by ESPN and other cable sports networks.  High school football coaches in many areas of the country now earn well over $100,000 per year plus other perks such as the use of leased motor vehicles.

The United States now ranks outside the top 15 countries in the world in measures of academic performance of its young people.  It is perhaps not a coincidence that the U.S. is the only country in the world with an athletic system that places so much emphasis on scholastic sports teams.  We like to think that we Americans are the best at everything.  Perhaps our misplaced priorities are catching up with us.  Polls consistently show that parents in the U.S. believe that their children will have a tougher time economically in the future than parents have had.

Perhaps there is a message in there somewhere?

Anyone  wanting to read the New York Times story can find it at the following link:


These issues are important to anyone dealing with sports from the college level on down to youth sports.  These areas of study have been central to the mission of the United States Sports Academy for the last 40 years.  For information on the school with the largest number of graduate students studying these issues go to http://ussa.edu.


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