Big money, Big Ten

Big money, Big Ten

Recent news stories have reported on the millions of dollars financing college athletics. But is spending ever-greater sums on sports the best use of that money?

Last year, the University of Illinois' Division of Intercollegiate Athletics brought in $80.8 million in revenue, including $1.5 million in donated cars for coaches, spouses and administrators.

Not bad for amateurs.

Last Sunday, The News-Gazette's Johnathan Hettinger ("Coaches enjoy 'perk,' to the tune of $1.5 million") and Tom Kacich ("UI athletics bringing in more and more dough") reported on the DIA's ever-expanding finances.

The numbers in both stories are quite impressive. DIA — the campus unit that runs Fighting Illini athletics — saw its revenue grow 57 percent over the last 10 years, from $48.4 million in 2005 to last year's $80.8 million.

Those figures are especially impressive — some would say distorted — when compared with what other universities spend on their academic missions. For example, the UI's Springfield campus operates on about $89 million.

What looks like big bucks really isn't, however, when Illinois is compared with other major programs.

Michigan — the school known for "Hail to the Victors" and the Ed Martin scandal — had nearly $158 million to spend last year. Ohio State — which actually remits about $8 million to the academic side of its campus — generates $145 million in revenue.

According to USA Today, Illinois ranks 34th nationally in athletic revenue. And that's just the public universities. Private schools — such as Notre Dame, Stanford and University of Southern California — do not have to divulge their finances.

No doubt, Illinois' modest ranking is a red flag for Illini fans. Their peers — such as Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Michigan State — are bringing in more money because they have been more consistent in football and men's basketball. Year-after-year success adds to the top line.

What is undeniable is the jaw-dropping amount of money being spent on what are supposed to be amateur athletics. If our hearts are where our treasures are, then every big college stadium must be a cathedral.

Where is all of this money coming from? Mostly from television, ticket sales and donations.

What we have today is an American anomaly: amateur athletes competing under a professional sports revenue model. No wonder there is an active movement to pay student-athletes to play.

Is this situation really a problem? It should be for anyone who cares about higher education, especially faculty, administrators and alumni. Given the staggering sums of money involved, big-time college sports are ripe for abuse.

And not surprisingly, we have seen plenty of that over the years — here at Illinois and on dozens of other campuses.

What is not going to change is the money. The audience is too big, and the demand for tickets and television time is too great.

But how America's major universities handle this sports money machine can change.

While most of the top 50 athletic programs are largely self-supporting, most Division I programs are not. They rely on their university to subsidize athletics. Maybe the NCAA should consider revenue sharing, with the Oregons, Texases and Alabamas helping to fund less-wealthy programs. The NFL has been doing something like this for years.

Maybe the NCAA members should agree to spending limits — not just on scholarships, but on costly facility upgrades and coaches' salaries. The major college programs are caught up in an arms race for coaching talent and glitzy arenas. Putting a limit on spending might level the playing field for both financial managers and the teams themselves.

A third possibility is sharing athletics' largesse with their parent institutions. Most universities, both public and private, have significant financial challenges. Why shouldn't athletics — with their steady streams of cash — contribute to their institutions? Many thriving athletic programs, such as Wisconsin and Penn State, have built their brands on their university's academic and research reputation.

If college sports programs want to maintain the aura of amateurism, they must create a new financial model. Otherwise, the problems we see today — academic fraud and secret payoffs — will only get worse.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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Local Yocal wrote on October 15, 2015 at 11:10 am
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The players should be paid no more than a $25,000 stipend per semester, and be granted lifetime scholarships to pursue an education after the 4 year elgibility is over.

MasterOfTheObvious wrote on October 15, 2015 at 9:10 pm

Interesting that the News-Gazette would take such a stance on this issue in as much as they, through their umbrella ownership, The Stevick Foundation, are complicit partners in the financial aspects of DIA operations through WDWS radio.  If indeed the indignation expressed in this editorial regarding the amount of influence that money has over amateur sports at UIUC truly concerned them, perhaps the leadership of the Stevick Foundation would divest their official association with the University of Illinois Division of Intercollgiate Athletics.  But of course, they will not do this.  Instead, the The Stevick Foundation will continue to propagate it's hypocrisy by using one hand (News-Gazette) to bash the University while it's other hand (WDWS) reaches out and makes money off the exploits of the coaches and athletes.  It's a pretty good scam that is being pulled off here in Central Illinois all under the guise of Freedom of the Press.  Hogwash.  Pablum for the plebians.