Saturday, November 29, 2008

No "Us vs. Them" For University Athletes

I don't object at all to a university sports program's ensuring that its athletes get the tutoring they need so that they can succeed both in the classroom and on the fields of friendly strife. But I question whether they need such tutoring in the Taj Mahal.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- At the University of Illinois, being an athlete gets you access to a $6 million facility with oversized leather chairs and Oriental rugs.

But it's not a fancy country club - it's a tutoring center.

The Irwin Academic Services Center helps only about 550 of the school's 37,000 students. And places like this in schools across the country leave critics fuming...

"A student who is not an athlete will say, 'I'm working nights to get through school - why don't I get free tutoring?'" Sack said.

In addition to the University of Illinois, at least four other schools have multimillion-dollar tutoring centers just for their athletes. Most are funded by athletic departments.

Proponents say the centers prepare athletes for life after sports, but other students want the same help available for everyone. The University of Michigan student newspaper is pushing to have their school's $12 million athletic tutoring facility open to all students.

I'll bet long-time reader EllenK will have some interesting comments on this.

21 comments:

char said...

I think Learning Centres are fantastic in general; but why so much the segregation.

Char
PSI Tutor: Academic Mentor
http://budurl.com/psitutor

Anonymous said...

The students may not need tutoring in a "Taj Mahal" but one could make a good case that the student-athletes using these facilities have largely paid for them.

I'm going to make a few assumptions here:
1) Football and basketball players are much more likely to need/use these facilities than athletes on the swim, golf or lacrosse teams.
2) The building used for the tutoring center has a reasonably long lifetime, so a $6M building might be reasonably described as 1/20th of that per year. In this case $300K/year.

So ... from here (which is based on an Indianapolis Star study on college athletics), we find that the football programs at many programs are massively profitable to the school. I suspect that the same is true for basketball. I'll also guess that most other sports programs run in the red.

The NCAA has managed to present as a *virtue* their collusion to *NOT* pay their players. So, we basically have some *very* valuable employees (the basketball and football players) who are obliged to work "for free" plus perks like tuition.

Now ... the problem for the schools is that these employees are very valuable (because they make the school *lots* of money), but are also at risk of becoming unavailable to work for the school because of poor grades.

Given this, it:
(a) make perfect sense for the schools to pay a lot to keep these athletes from becoming inellible to play, and
(b) makes perfect sense to *not* spend the same amount on the non-athletes.

The students complaining about not having access to the super-nice tutoring facilities are not producing profits for the university like the athletes are. If they were, they'd be getting nice benefits like this, too.

-Mark Roulo

mazenko said...

Hey, that's my alma mater you're talking about. If the U of I is doing it, I'm sure it is moral, ethical, and integral to the pursuit of a world class educational system .... or something like that.

Ellen K said...

You betcha.
While I don't resent a students getting tutoring services at any level, where is the parity when an athlete gets free services to maintain their NCAA eligibility and the average student has to pay on a sliding scale? My kids work 35 hours a week and take full class loads. It would be wonderful for them to have a walk-in study center that had knowledgeable staff and great facilities to help them succeed. The problem is, once again, student athletes have be elevated to a higher plane of existence. They get more in terms of housing, better food, more flexible class scheduling during their sport season and now this? At some point, the average student is going to have to count for something. And as private schools start losing middle class students due to costs that even student lending cannot bridge, how will they justify this to the students who remain and who pay fees to support these programs?

David said...

"so a $6M building might be reasonably described as 1/20th of that per year. In this case $300K/year"...let's also include heat/cooling/lighting, plus maintenance. Let's also include cost of capital: ie, the $240K/year that the funding of the building would cost even if accomplished via 4% tax-free bonds.

rightwingprof said...

Thank you, Mr. Roulo. I was going to say more or less the same thing.

When the other students are pulling in millions of dollars of revenue, then they can whine about getting the same tutoring.

I believe I stopped reading University Diaries when she went off on another irrational Athletic Program Derangement Syndrome rant, and I asked her who she thought paid for all of those Disenfranchised Student Studies programs and centers at her university. Never expect academics to comprehend basic cost and revenue.

Anonymous said...

"let's also include heat/cooling/lighting, plus maintenance. Let's also include cost of capital: ie, the $240K/year that the funding of the building would cost even if accomplished via 4% tax-free bonds."

Sure :-)

But it doesn't change the conclusion. If the article I linked to is to be believed, the average SEC school made a $14M profit from football in 2004 (I think). The average Big 10 school cleared $13M. Etc. Whether the taj mahal tutoring center costs $250K or $500K per year doesn't really change how much the school is clearing from the unpaid semi-professional athletes they have playing football.

-Mark Roulo

David said...

I'd be interested in knowing exactly how "profit" is computed. In large & complex organizations, there are generally cost-accounting wars and gamesmanship which have a big influence on what costs are allocated to what programs, and hence on profitability.

Also, there is no moral, legal, or practical requirement that a particular sub-organization gets to keep all the profit that it generates. Ask the people at (say) GE Lighting whether they get to keep all the profit & cash flow that they generate...more likely, most of it is reinvested in other business units that are viewed as having greater growth potential.

Anonymous said...

"Also, there is no moral, legal, or practical requirement that a particular sub-organization gets to keep all the profit that it generates."

I wasn't clear.

I'm not suggesting that the schools have a moral or legal requirement to "give back" to the athletes.

I am suggesting that there may well be a *practical* reason to do so. My thinking goes something like this:
1) "Good" football and basketball programs are profitable to the school.
2) At "good" football and basketball programs, the athletes who are recruited to play often don't come up to the same academic caliber as the non-athletic students.
3) Because of (2), the schools run a very real risk that the athletes that generate the profits in (1) may flunk out. If they flunk out, then the teams get worse and the profits may well go away. I suspect (as an example) that the perennially bad programs do not generate profits and in fact are loss centers.
4) Because the schools wish to keep the profits from (1) coming along, it *IS* practical for the school to spend extra money ensuring that these athletes don't flunk out.

Because I think that for the more successful programs it:
a) Is practical to overfund the athletes, and
b) The athletes are essentially paying for this anyway

I thus can't get into an uproar that the other students don't get the same money spent on them.
a) The money probably isn't there, and,
b) The school has a practical reason to spend it where they do.

NOTE: Why can't the "profits" be spent on the non-athlete students? Probably because they are already being spent supporting all the money losing athletic programs -- golf, baseball, lacrosse, swimming, etc.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

"I'd be interested in knowing exactly how "profit" is computed. In large & complex organizations, there are generally cost-accounting wars and gamesmanship which have a big influence on what costs are allocated to what programs, and hence on profitability."

I agree (and, actually, the Indianapolis Star mentions this, too).

But ... I just can't believe that programs like Duke basketball, Michigan football, and OSU football are *not* profit centers using any sort of sane accounting.

It's kinda like hollywood accounting. Forrest Gump may have "lost" money, but if a studio produced only one motion picture per year and that picture was as successful as Forrest Gump, it wouldn't go bankrupt :-)

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

"I believe I stopped reading University Diaries when she went off on another irrational Athletic Program Derangement Syndrome rant, and I asked her who she thought paid for all of those Disenfranchised Student Studies programs and centers at her university."

Actually, we do have to be a bit careful here. I've been talking about successful programs. A consistent 6-6 football team is very possible a financial drag on the university. I don't know which university the author was attending ... at OSU or Michigan or Duke or Notre Dame she's off base. At UC Irvine, athletics probably *cost* the university money (which doesn't make them a bad way to spend the money). However, I also suspect that UC Irvine isn't going to be building a "Taj Mahal" for the athletes that attend ...

-Mark Roulo

Ellen K said...

I would agree that it depends on the program as to whether they are profit centers or profit losses on the budget. But I also think numerous expenditures that serve the athletic department, its employees and its students are hidden within the fee structure of many major universities. Whether they call it an Activity Fee or a User Fee, few mainline students get enough bang for the buck to make it worth their while. And in some schools, even those fees don't guarantee you will get a ticket to the big games. Once again, it's about priorities. I don't mind athletes getting tutoring as long as it is open to all other students as well. If you segregate athletes based just upon their status as athletes, then you are taking advantage of the regular students who pay to attend. When calculating the full cost of a program, you can't just look at scholarships. You have to include facility maintenance, upgrades, advertising, travel, uniforms, uniform cleaning and replacement, travel for the band and pep squads and countless other details. I doubt that all those things show up on the same budget. And it's even worse at the high school level. While Notre Dame may always make budget, I am not so sure about schools like SMU or even successful private schools like TCU. If student funding supports athletic programs, then athletic tutoring or benefits should be open to all students. I don't think that's rocket science. And BTW, I love college football as a sport, but I think our priorities are way out of line.

Donalbain said...

Meh! I played in the national final of hockey for my university hockey team. For that I recieved the chance to pay £50 a year, plus £3 per match. I also got to buy a shirt for £10.

rightwingprof said...

"I don't mind athletes getting tutoring as long as it is open to all other students as well."

Athletes are paying for it by generating revenue (and athletic program revenue includes donations from alumni, not just ticket sales). When other students generate similar revenue, then they deserve the same tutoring at the same cost, but only when they generate similar revenue.

Anonymous said...

More than fifteen years ago I spent a year in Korea as an exchange student.

Colleges and unis there don't even bother to maintain the pretense of athletes as scholars. They recruit certain high school students purely for their athletic abilities, and these athletes, once at the college/uni, are not required to do anything except excel at the sport(s) they were recruited for. If they wish to take regular coursework, I understand it is permissible, but I don't know how common that is.

I have often wondered what is wrong with their approach, and I can't think of anything. No system is perfect, and certainly their approach has some advantages over our approach.

DADvocate said...

I'm a 2x graduate of the University of Tennessee where football pulls in 100,000 plus per game in addition to all sorts of income from other sources, men's and women's basketball do pretty well too. These sports support all the other sports at the school plus donate money to academic programs.

The athletes work their butts off and contribute much more to the school on the whole than the cost of the education they receive. UT also gets millions in donations because of their athletic program, much of which goes to academics too. A couple of years ago, a Virginia man who had no connection to UT donated millions because he liked its sports.

I could go on but it is abundently obvious to the non-whiny butts thats in the larger picture, sports and athletes usually contribute a lot to universities.

Ellen K said...

Then why bother to have regular classes at all? Why have the pretense that universities exist to educate when so much of the budget is spent on athletics? How about we go ahead and set up a farm system for the NFL and NBA and throw the NCAA and BCS out the door? I am willing to bet that there are countless "General Studies" majors in athletic circles that would much rather spend four years in the football or basketball equivelent of the minor leagues than attend a freshman English class. And frankly, I find it pretty offensive that so many people are dismissive of kids who work and go to school. And that is far more of the kids in college than the precious few elite athletes. Or do they not count? I guess this is another example of "change..." that being that average kids in average academic classes are simply revenue sources.

angryimmigrant said...

In addition to ticket/concession/merchandise revenue, which is creatively accounted for as previously mentioned, athletics is the leading draw for alumni donations, as well. Illinois in particular needs athletic success in order to repair the damage it did to its alumni donations by kowtowing to the NCAA's hypocritical demands to remove Chief Illiniwek.

This was a fight that took place largely along 'professors vs. athletics fans' lines (which is a 'cash drain vs. cash cow' situation in most colleges at the U of I -- where most of the Engineering College's money is doled out to the colleges whose alumni only get rich after they're dead...)

Add to that the current crisis of total government meltdown in the State of Illinois (check out Blagojevich's approval ratings here), where the U of I has threatened to privatize itself unless the State starts actually paying the money it owes.

Since undergrad tuition laughably underfunds the University, and since the State can't even buy itself salt, much less top-tier education, the U of I is desperate for athletic dollars. Thus they make life cushy for the profitable athletes.

Recall the Governor, reinstate the Chief, and the athletes can go back to having their homework done for them in a medium-comfort study lounge instead of this beast.

Donalbain said...

I can't recall the precise data or the source, so ANECDOTE AHOY!

I am pretty sure that I read that university sports in the USA are, overall a drag on finances rather than an benefit. I seem to recall that the money they brinng in tends to stay within the sports departments rather than entering into the general funds.

Interesting fact apropos nothing much (which, thinking about it, I may have read here!): The most highly paid US government worker is a football coach at one of the military schools.

rightwingprof said...

"And frankly, I find it pretty offensive that so many people are dismissive of kids who work and go to school."

That's at most 5% of the student body. Very few students work these days. It's not the 70s.

What's offensive is that these nearly worthless students feel that they are entitled to the same benefits as students who actually do something for the university.

As for graduation rates, Bobby Knight maintained over 90% for all the years he was at IU, and did it while racking up a winning record any coach in the US would kill for. And stereotypes are all very cute, but how about all the athletes who go on to become professionals, as opposed to going into some cushy government "social service" job.

"I am pretty sure that I read that university sports in the USA are, overall a drag on finances rather than an benefit. I seem to recall that the money they brinng in tends to stay within the sports departments rather than entering into the general funds."

You need to look at a few university operating budgets. You're wrong on both counts, although the second point is moot, as revenues are fungible.

Ellen K said...

Right Wing Prof-sir-I have three kids who ALL work and they have countless friend who ALL work-sometimes at two or three jobs. Maybe kids in your state don't work, but kids down here sure do.