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  • Topic: Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Oak Ridge Associated Universities
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  • Published : April 18, 2013
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Chapter 6

The Athletic Department
and the University

Simply put, success in … football is essential for the success of Louisiana State University. – LSU Chancellor Mark Emmert

There is an arms race in college sports … the only thing worse than being in an arms race is not being in the arms race. – Bob Bowlsby, University of Iowa Athletic Director

Any time you can name the head of a university before you can name the head coach, you’ve got a problem at that football program. – Danny Sheridan, sports analyst

Positive name recognition [from athletics success] has been very helpful. But I wouldn’t say it has been the main factor [in increased enrollment}. – Steven Sample, President of the University of Southern California

6.1 Introduction

In his presidential address to the 2005 NCAA convention (see Box 6.1), Myles Brand referred to the athletics “spending spiral” occurring at DI institutions. He voiced concern about the growing trend of athletic departments becoming financially independent from the university and he stressed that athletics “must be fully integrated into the educational mission” of the university. President Brand’s comments reflect the main concerns of this chapter: the apparent unrestrained growth in athletic department budgets, the consequences of that growth, and the proper relationship between the athletic department and the university.

6.2 Growth of the Athletic Department

While operating expenditures of athletic departments at DI universities are a small percentage of total university spending (usually in the range of 1-4%), they are growing about twice as fast as university expenditures as a whole (Brady and Upton, 2005).[1] Athletics budgets are increasing because athletics directors and coaches are convinced that greater spending results in greater sports success which then causes an increased flow of revenues to the university. The problem is that if the other schools are doing the same thing, then they will have to increase the budget even further to have the anticipated effect. As universities attempt to outspend one another, an arms race occurs. As noted in Chapter 2, it is not just athletic directors and coaches who advocate bigger sports programs; many university presidents also favor increased investment in athletics. The latter believe that greater investment in sports causes undergraduate enrollment and the academic quality of entering students to increase. In addition, alumni donations are expected to increase with athletic success. Thus, athletics is thought to generate revenues to both the athletic department, through sources such as increased ticket and merchandise sales, and to the university, from increased undergraduate enrollments and donations. For example, consider the football programs at Boise State University and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Because Boise State’s 11-0 record in 2004 resulted in considerable coverage by ESPN and other media, the university claimed that applications by out-of-state students rose 20%, donations to the university foundation rose, sales of university merchandise at the bookstore increased 66%, and season ticket sales for football increased roughly 60% (Buker, 2005). According to UTEP, three winning seasons, and a trip to the Houston Bowl in December 2004, helped contribute to a six-year increase in enrollment from 14,695 to 19,264 (Adams, 2005).

Fast fact. Boise State’s participation in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma was only the second time that a team from outside the six powerhouse conferences appeared in a BCS bowl game. In 2005, Utah played in the Fiesta bowl against Pittsburgh. Boise State is in the Western Athletic Conference and Utah is in the Mountain West Conference.

Not everyone believes that athletics spending is a magic bullet that guarantees institution-wide success. Faculty members, arguing in terms of misplaced priorities and opportunity costs, often criticize...
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