Money is the root of all evil. While this may seem be an extreme explanation and perhaps a bit of an over exaggeration, in many ways, this verse defines the issues plaguing modern day college athletics. In fact, the prioritization of money in college athletics is not a recent epidemic; its roots have been placed in college sports since its inception. As even during the first ever college athletics event in 1852, a boat race between Harvard and Yale, the event was used by a railroad company in order to in increase tourism (“Hurrah for the Shoes!,” 2001). The manifestation of this corporate culture in college athletics has proven them to be incompatible with academics, and even though the university administrators are keenly aware of this, they are also aware of the tremendous economic influence athletics have on their institutions.
To understand why university administrators are opposed to removing athletics despite their incompatibility with academics, it is important to understand the enormity of their impact on universities. Particularly, when collegiate athletic programs experience success with sports teams, mainly their football and men’s basketball programs, their universities realize unprecedented increases in donations and admission applications. The term for this this phenomenon is the “Flutie Factor” and is named after Boston College’s former quarterback, Doug Flutie, whose game winning Hail Mary pass in the 1984 game against the University of Miami allegedly acted as the catalyst in Boston College’s increased applications the following year (Sperber, 2001). More recently, Boise State University experienced record high donations and an 18 percent increase in applications following their successful 2006–07 football campaign, which was concluded with a win over college football juggernaut University of Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl to finish the season a perfect 13–0 (Choo, 2008). Similarly, two universities experienced large increases in applications following their runs in the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball Tournament. Florida Gulf Coast who had previously never made an appearance in the NCAA tournament, ended up reaching the Sweet Sixteen and Wichita State returned to the Final Four after last reaching that point in 1965 (Lim, 2015). Wichita State saw applications rise by an astounding 81% after their team reached the Final Four and within a year of Florida Gulf Coast’s run to Sweet Sixteen, purchase of men’s basketball-related merchandise saw a tremendous increase, along with applications to the school increasing by 27.5%, and out-of-state applications increasing by 41% (“Cinderella Stories Send Applications Soaring,” 2017; Lim, 2015)
Universities recognize this positive correlation and as a result, schools of all shapes and sizes supply larger portions of their budgets toward intercollegiate athletics. Football Subdivision Schools (FBS) were previously known as Division 1-A; schools in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) play football in what was previously referred to as Division 1-AA. FCS programs are smaller and do not have the resources to compete with the wealthier, FBS programs. Consequently, they offer fewer football scholarships, do not play in the plethora of lucrative bowl games, and rarely if ever make a profit since they do not have benefit from lucrative conference-based TV deals like teams in the FBS. Since these FCS programs bring in a smaller revenue from football, they depend on a far greater proportion of nonathletic budgetary resources to fund these programs (Denhart and Ripath 2011). Even though football is easily the most expensive intercollegiate sport and accounts for the largest percentage of these expenditure increases, even Division I schools without football programs are engaged in a similar athletics spending ‘‘arms race’’ as are Division III programs who are not even allowed to offer official athletic scholarships. These universities understand the influential capability that success in programs such as football and men’s basketball can bring about. As a result, they funnel money into these programs with the intention of drawing the eyes of potential students. With success in these programs, their brand can reach groups that otherwise would not be possible without athletics. The administrators who continuously fund and emphasize their athletic programs are not doing this to create opportunity for students but instead, are using athletics as a tool to cultivate awareness for their university.
This emphasis on athletic success can be seen at not only large schools with prominent, revenue-generating sports programs, but also at smaller schools including well established liberal arts colleges that boast academic excellence and admit some of the country’s finest students (“The Liberal Arts Football Factory,” 2017). The United States is the only country in the world that has made organized sports a traditional element of formal higher education (Coakley 2008). With the integration of athletics into these institutions, these universities have partially morphed into semi-professional sports franchises. These sports programs have played a crucial role in these universities becoming corporatized, with their teams becoming increasingly commercialized and capatlized on.
The inflow of cash from these big sports programs in turn has had a tremendous influence in guiding agendas within the university that reinforce athletic success. This corporatization of universities through collegiate athletics has resulted in a prioritization of athletic prowess over intellectual capability. These athletics have largely help sway these universities to devote a majority of their funds to support brand new athletic facilities and transfer scholarship money to academically unqualified athletes rather than the ones that are academically qualified for these institutions. This agenda also has largely contributed to the deterioration of these university’s core ‘product’, as schools have opted to promote their schools as premier locations and offer generous scholarships to academically unqualified student athletes. As a result of this deprioritization of academic competence, academic scandals have become commonplace in the collegiate athletic landscape. Since the adoption of intercollegiate athletics, these scandals have become more prevalent and the response to more recent scandals, indicate that these institutions are largely undisturbed by these fraudulent practices.
For example, over the course of several years, the African American Studies department at the University of North Carolina was shown to have committed major academic fraud (Wainstein, 2014). After the discovery of this fraud, over a dozen reports and investigations were written and conducted. One of the last reports was the Wainstein Report which was done by a for a private firm at UNC’s request. The report is over 100 pages long and was put together after an examination of the 10 preceding investigations. In the report, it describes the “paper classes” created and endorsed by former Afro-American studies secretary, Debbie Crowder, and former department chair, Julius Nyang’oro. These classes were constructed to require practically no attendance and with the only demand of students being that they write a paper or two over the course of the semester. The quality as well as length of these papers were unimportant as Crowder who was allowed to run these courses would mostly give them high marks (Wainstein, 2014). As if the student-athletes in these courses did not have it easy enough, tutors frequently wrote the papers for them (Wainstein, 2014). Scandals such as these are sadly, not uncommon with athletic programs due to the academic competence of the student-athletes being admitted to these programs. University’s such as North Carolina that pride themselves on academic excellence’s would not find themselves in these sort of positions if their athletics was not such an integral part of their institution.
With the litany of academic scandals across the country, it is best at this point, for universities to rid themselves of college athletics. While this likely will never happen, academics need to take back precedence on college campuses. Athletics in their current form are incompatible with athletics as university administrators use their programs as semi-professional sport franchise to help promote the university to prospective students. Intramural sports are a perfect example of sports that could be compatible with university athletics as these athletics are unable to be commodified by the universities. Until universities rid themselves of intercollegiate athletics in its current form, the regression of academic quality and integrity will continue.