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Thursday, January 4, 2007
Why college sports?
The folks at Marginal Revolution point out that the writers -- or is it just one? -- of the Economist blog Free Exchange, clearly less than transfixed by college football's bowl season, are wondering the following: why do colleges operate semi-professional sports teams? Funny, The Onion was just wondering the same thing, only in reverse. But anyhow, if we wanted, we could go further than the Economist: why do colleges have sports teams at all? (Gasp, I know, but it's not as if there's any law here. For a time Georgetown, not exactly an anti-sports school, didn't have varsity football.)
The Economist writer is perplexed particularly because "overall, the athletics department is a money-losing proposition for most schools. They also bring down the value of the university's core 'product', as schools offer places and often lavish scholarships to academically unqualified student athletes." That's an interesting thesis, only I'm not sure it's true. So sports programs bring down the median student grade, no argument there. But if they really had an immediate effect on the university's bottom line, as the blogger is suggesting, I think we'd know about it, and we would see the cancellation of some more athletic programs. But if Notre Dame folded the football team after last night's loss, watch the alumni donations dry up and the angry letters flood in.
Answering its own question, in part, the Economist post says that "Irvin Tucker has found a significant and positive correlation between a university having a successful football team and higher quality of incoming freshmen, alumni donations, and graduation rates." But they also cite an NCAA-commissioned study that found that spending on sports had no correlation to an increase in student quality.
Jury's out here. Who will take the chance and cut the football team? I've often wondered whether an Ivy school would take the first step, since their academic programs are unlikely to be shunned by alumni and applicants.