In the multibillion-dollar world of Division I intercollegiate sports, some costs are part of the public conversation and others are not, making it difficult for university administrators, faculty members and fans to understand the true costs of the athletic enterprise.
For example, the salaries of coaches and universities’ sports profits command much attention. The University of Alabama’s football coach Nick Saban’s reported salary of $5.3 million pushes him past Mac Brown, the head football coach at Texas, who earned $5.2 million. The University of Kentucky wins the basketball salary ranking at $5.4 million, followed closely by Louisville’s $4.8 million. Profits are also well-publicized. In 2010-11, Duke University basketball was reported to have had a profit of $14.3 million, barely beating its in-state rival, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, at $13.8 million.
Two recent reports, however, are stunning examples of the types of expenses that add immeasurably to the costs of the intercollegiate athletics enterprise — at a minimum for the revenue sports — yet become transparent only when a scandal or crisis forces this information into the sunlight. UNC and Pennsylvania State University have revealed that they have generated sizable expenses to address athletics scandals.
In the ongoing athletically driven academic scandals that erupted at UNC in 2010, the administration recently announced that the university has incurred $467,000 in fees for outside legal services to date. Penn State has reported nearly $12 million in fees — including crisis communication and the bill for the Louis Freeh report — to address the massive scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the university’s response to his years of child molestation.
Even though officials have claimed that these expenses do not diminish the resources of the university — because they are almost magically covered by unrestricted endowments, athletics revenues, and insurance — the opportunity costs are still immense. To put the UNC expenses in perspective, based on in-state tuition of $7,008, these fees would have helped 66 students reach their educational goals, or provided books and supplies for over 400 students. These fees would have supported seven assistant professors in the arts and humanities or four full professors in the natural sciences and math. Or how about salaries for 12 North Carolina public school teachers?
Further, how do we begin to calculate the costs of the time and energy that UNC’s chancellor, Holden Thorp, and Penn State’s president, Rodney Erickson, have devoted to the respective scandals on their campuses, not to mention the many other administrators who support these leaders? The costs of time spent by special faculty committees that investigate intercollegiate sports improprieties only add to the financial toll. These costs do not appear on university financial statements.
The growth in the complexity of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s byzantine participation rules that vainly attempt to rein in the corruptive effects of the billions upon billions of dollars that flow through the athletic enterprise further add to costs. As part of its response to the ongoing scandal, UNC has hired two additional "compliance" officers, adding to the already substantial burden of adhering to NCAA codes. The news coverage of UNC’s external legal fees noted that most of these fees were directed to two law firms that have particular expertise in NCAA investigations. The fact that law firms have actually developed specialties in NCAA regulations is further evidence of the costs of compliance.
There are also hidden costs to the university in salary negotiations. With the escalation in compensation for celebrity coaches in football and basketball, many have turned to professional agents. To my knowledge, not many philosophers or music professors or historians have hired agents to represent them with their deans in salary negotiations. And yet, an Associated Press article in 2010 indicated that one sports agent was associated with coaches who were likely to earn $50 million in post-season bowl payouts for their universities, some fraction of which gets converted to bonuses negotiated into contracts.
Highly paid coaches understandably depend on the expertise and experience of agents to develop and manage negotiating strategies in the same way that they count on their talented (and often highly paid) assistant coaches to design game plans. While the economics of the relationship between coaches and agents makes sense from the perspective of coaches, it is not clear that universities have the expertise and experience to be suitable and effective advocates for their own interests. After all, a university might negotiate with a head football or basketball coach every few years, while a sought-after sports agent is likely engaged in high-stakes negotiations frequently. If negotiations are handled internally by administrators who are no doubt competent, but inexperienced, there is a cost in failing to achieve the best outcome for the university. If universities turn to outside negotiators, that too becomes a hidden cost.
These hidden costs are not limited to the "business" aspects of intercollegiate sports. In recent years, it has become increasingly and alarmingly clear that football-related head injuries take a painful toll on the well-being of athletes in their later years. Indeed, the cost of injuries has been recognized by the NCAA for many years, but as Taylor Branch noted in his recent cogent critique, the NCAA decided to not be fully transparent about those costs. The workmen’s compensation system is designed to provide payments to workers who are injured on the job. But in the early 1950s, when faced with the potential financial impact of making universities "employers" of athletes — that is, athletes as workers, with the associated financial compensation for their injuries — the NCAA crafted the term “student-athlete” to make this responsibility ambiguous. As Branch noted, the question of athletes as workers entitled to worker’s compensation is continuing to work its way through the courts. And given the current use of the ambiguous concept of “student-athlete,” the true costs of football-related injuries have yet to be estimated. If the courts find in favor of the athletes, universities and the NCAA could be on the hook for millions.
Some claim that the legal and other professional fees that seem to be a growing dimension of intercollegiate sports come from assets that do not directly diminish university resources. Yet the opportunity costs are substantial and should be discussed openly and explicitly as such — not rationalized away. As institutions with special status in society and as institutions where the search for truth is at the core of their missions, universities should make great efforts to bring the hidden costs of intercollegiate football into the light. Only then can universities accurately calculate and weigh what sadly appears to be the increasingly harmful impact of intercollegiate football on their missions.
Lewis Margolis is associate professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
There is a lot of pressure on academic institutions to be innovative these days, and faculty members are often characterized as roadblocks to change. Given the entrenched and highly structured rewards system within which we operate, it should come as no surprise that many faculty colleagues are risk-averse when it comes to exploring new trends in scholarship or pedagogy. Rather than bemoaning the hidebound, luddite, or traditionalist nature of faculty, anyone who wants to encourage innovative teaching and scholarship at their college or university should instead ask, what are the institutional barriers to experimentation here, and how might they be lowered?
When it comes to teaching, a highly personal and performative activity, fear of failure can take many forms. But for many faculty members it is crystallized in a single, dreaded object: the student course evaluation. The possibility of receiving negative student evaluations can be a powerful deterrent to colleagues who may be interested in incorporating new technology, radically altering course design, or exploring new areas of expertise. In an effort to counter that fear, we have just instituted a new policy at Middlebury College that allows faculty to designate new courses as exempt from official course evaluations -- a system that quickly became known as the "pass/fail option for faculty."
As provost, I had appointed some 40 colleagues last fall to task forces on curricular innovation that were charged with developing proposals to promote pedagogical, technological, and interdisciplinary experimentation. Though group discussions were energetic and forward-looking, it quickly became apparent that the perceived risks of experimentation could stand in the way of individual faculty adoption of many of the best ideas that emerged. In the hope of creating a receptive atmosphere for the task force recommendations, I proposed that we consider adjusting the institutional expectations embodied in our three major processes of faculty evaluation — course response forms, annual salary forms, and reviews for reappointment and promotion — in ways that might encourage innovation in both teaching and scholarship. After consultation with relevant faculty committees, we have already made the recommended adjustments in two of these areas. (As someone who has been involved in discussions about the challenges of evaluating digital scholarship, I was not surprised that the third area, review language, was less of a slam dunk).
The new course evaluation policy is simple: all faculty members who have completed two full years of teaching will have the option of designating one course every two years as "course response form-optional." In such courses, the standard evaluations will be distributed to students, and collected, but returned to the instructor only (who may then stipulate whether or not they should be included in their central administrative files). Like the student who chooses to take a particular course pass/fail in order to mitigate his or her fear of exploring unknown territory, an instructor who is trying something new now has the option of teaching an "ungraded" course.
While we take course evaluations very seriously at Middlebury, they are only one data point in a peer review process that includes multiple classroom visits by a candidate’s department chair, some senior colleagues, and all three members of the collegewide tenure and promotions committee. We are confident that omitting two or three sets of evaluations from a colleague’s multiyear file will not preclude a rigorous assessment of their teaching. In my experience, having sat with T&P committees for a number of years, and read many thousands of course evaluations, sound judgments about teaching effectiveness rest on discerning patterns over time and across course types, and not on judging the success of any one or two courses.
This policy represents a small change, but I believe it has symbolic value: it says that we do not equate teaching excellence with perfection, but instead expect all teachers to be lifelong learners, even at the art of teaching. It says that we trust faculty colleagues to do their best, even when no one is looking over their shoulders. And it says that an institution that demands innovation has to support innovation. Much of the current commentary about higher education emphasizes the imminent dangers of disruption from without; the best way to cushion that disruption, in my view, is to welcome change from within.
Alison Byerly holds an interdisciplinary appointment as college professor at Middlebury College, where she also served until recently as provost and executive vice president. While on leave in 2012-13, she is a visiting scholar in literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her bookAre We There Yet? Virtual Travel and Victorian Realism is forthcoming this fall from the University of Michigan Press.
The proportion of academic research involving more than one institution is going up, according to an analysis by the National Science Foundation. The NSF looked at the percentage of academic R&D funding that goes to "pass through" payments to a second institution. The figure is now 7 percent, up from 5 percent in 2000.
In today’s Academic Minute, Ben Ellis of Washington State University reveals research indicating that the Yellowstone super volcano may have erupted more frequently than previously thought. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.