- Created on Sunday, 12 March 2017 14:00
In previous posts on this blog, I have pled with my alma mater, Syracuse, to stop playing Division I men’s football and basketball. Why? Because universities become so besotted by the money and limelight these programs can generate that they wind up selling their souls.
Universities must succumb to academic fraud to succeed as those sports. There is really no choice. Recruiting only players who are academically qualified places programs at too much of a competitive disadvantage. To succeed at these highly-competitive endeavors, men’s football and basketball programs must recruit from the wider pool that includes both students who do, and do not, have the capacity to perform well academically at their respective universities.
The universities create elaborate academic support programs for their players and delude themselves into believing that, with that support, all of their players legitimately succeed. But academic support programs can do only such much, especially with students who must spend forty hours a week playing, practicing, and training for their sports – not to mention missing classes to travel for distant games.
Two recent New York Times stories provide further evidence of the blindness and decay resulting from chasing dreams of football glory.
The first story is about Baylor University. In 2008, Baylor, which had not had a winning season in thirteen years, decided to pursue football greatness. It hired a new head coach – Art Briles, who had turned around a losing program at Houston University. Baylor paid Briles what was reputed to be of the highest salaries in college sports, and it also spent $266 million for a new football stadium to help him recruit. And behold: Art Briles worked his second miracle! Two years later, Baylor started having winning seasons and going to increasingly prestigious bowl games – Texas Bowl in 2010, Alamo Bowl in 2011, Holiday Bowl in 2012, Fiesta Bowl in 2014, and Cotton Bowl in 2015. Baylor reveled the glory.
But there was a dark underside to the Baylor’s success. Briles did what he needed to do to win, and Baylor deliberately turned a blind eye to his methods. Baylor recruited athletically-talented football players who had been dismissed for disciplinary reasons from other universities. Baylor asked attractive female students – called hostesses – to show prospective recruits a good time on their visits to Baylor. Allegedly, this included having sex with the recruits.
Chickens come home to roost. At least five students (and probably more) claimed they were raped or otherwise sexually abused by Baylor football players during the Briles era. The University knew of these allegations but cruelly turned their back on these women, and sought to keep their allegations secret. Journalists ultimately revealed the ugly truth. The University wound up getting rid of Briles, its athletic director, and its president, Ken Starr (who previously became famous as the Watergate special prosecutor). Baylor’s glory turned to disgrace. In addition to spending $266 million for that new football stadium, Baylor has now spent an estimated $223 million in settlements and legal expenses resulting from lawsuits and an internal investigation.
Though it has had some scandals too, the Rutgers story is mostly about money. Rutgers has never been a sports power – at least not in recent history. But that did not stop it from dreaming. It too hired expensive football coaches. In addition, since 1994 it has spent more than $130 million constructing, expanding, and enhancing its football stadium. In 2012, Rutgers joined the Big Ten Conference. The University announced that this would be a “transformative” event in its history. How has that worked out? According to the New York Times, Rutgers’ athletic department had been consistently running annual deficits of more than $20 million. Its 2016 deficit was $28.6 million. Moreover, that figure does not tell the whole story. The athletic department listed in its 2016 budget “other operating revenue,” which the New York Times discovered was a $10.5 million loan, at 5.75% interest, which will cost $18 million to repay.
Rutgers is a great University. I have a son who did both his undergraduate and graduate work there, and I am grateful for the first-rate education he received. But Rutgers is also a financially-strapped public University, increasingly squeezed by a state. Rutgers: Isn’t it time give up the dreams of football greatness (along with the grim reality of how such dreams are achieved), and redirect your resources to your core mission of education and research?