Most presidents at colleges across the country believe that they won't be able to sustain the high costs of their athletic programs, according to a survey from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics published earlier this week. The survey polled 95 college presidents whose schools compete in the 119-member Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly Division I-A) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The presidents also admitted they had few ideas on how to fix the problem.
We already know schools' athletic programs haven't been immune to the effects of the economy. Schools that had continued to expand their facilities despite weak economic projections could be in trouble down the line. But college presidents hadn't asked for sweeping reform to schools' athletic programs until now.
An article in the Chronicle for Higher Education this week said presidents felt they had "limited power to control the rising expenses of sports on their own campuses and at the national and conference levels." Making changes to athletic programs is a touchy subject. Administrators could be at risk of losing alumni support if they rock the boat too much. According to the survey, more than 80 percent of college presidents said more transparency is needed when it comes to spending on athletics, especially during an economic crunch that has affected many academic programs. About 85 percent responded that college football and basketball coaches are paid too much, and that those salaries are exceedingly difficult to control.
So if college presidents, the leaders of the schools, feel powerless to change what appears to be an increasingly difficult situation, what can be done about the problem? At a meeting this week that commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Knight Commission’s founding, athletics directors and college administrators had competing ideas. Big Ten Commissioner James E. Delany said it was dangerous to cut costs, especially when athletic programs brought funding in to schools. Dutch Baughman, executive director of the Division IA Athletic Directors Association, said he had already proposed ways to cut costs: less travel and changes to hiring practices.
Perhaps presidents should have more faith in their actions and authority. Many responded that athletic programs have become too political or bureaucratic. Nathan Tublitz, co-chair of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, said presidents were being too "wimpy." It can get difficult, though, to criticize spending money to improve programs that bring so much money into a school, especially at schools with high-profile athletic teams. But what if spending money on sports programs hurts the academic programs at a school? What do you think?
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