Controlling the Madness

The Raleigh News Observer published a commentary by Richard Hain, who discussed the concerns about the significant amount of institutional support for football and men’s basketball programs.  Hain provides his ideas for a national approach to help universities realign their athletics programs with their educational mission.  Richard is a mathematics professor at Duke University.

“DURHAM — Inhabitants of Tobacco Road, the four-lane strip of pavement that joins basketball powerhouses Duke and North Carolina, must be wondering whether it really is March. Spring is late, and the reigning national champions, North Carolina, failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament. But it’s not the weather that is dampening my enthusiasm for the tournament, nor the absence of North Carolina – after all, I’m a Duke fan.,

Rather, it’s the growing educational and financial separation between big-time college athletics and higher education.

Athletics budgets increased by 50 percent between 2004 and 2009 at universities with Division I-A athletics. Coaching salaries have soared, with some basketball and football coaches now earning more than $4 million a year, more than enough to fund an academic department with 25 faculty members and their support staff. Universities continue to subsidize their athletics departments even as they cut educational programs in response to state budget deficits and endowment losses.

Universities spend the most money by far on their basketball and football programs. Despite massive investments in them, football and basketball have the lowest graduation rates. Eight of the top 16 seeds in this year’s men’s basketball tournament graduated 50 percent or less of their African-American players. Among the 68 football teams that played in the recent bowl games, 22 graduated less than half of their African-American players.

Universities that want to reduce their athletics expenditures cannot act unless they know their peers will do the same. What’s needed is a national approach to help universities realign their athletics programs with their educational mission. How might they do this? Here are five ideas:

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