COMMENTARY: Will Greed and Money Kill College Sports

By Rene A. Henry

 Football is the king at 119 colleges and universities throughout the country and a major reason there are so many crises in college sports.  At many institutions the football coach is paid a multimillion dollar salary, more than the institution’s president, and is the highest paid employee in many states.

Once the bastions of ethics and integrity, many colleges and universities today have become halls of greed, shame and disgrace – virtual scandal and crisis machines.  Ohio State.  Miami.  North Carolina.  And now, Penn State, the most reprehensible of all because children were victims and the leaders of the university did nothing to stop the sex abuse from continuing.

Rene A. Henry

Whenever an athlete or coach gets into the least bit of trouble, the media broadcast it nationwide tarnishing the image and reputation of the institution.  Last year Sports Illustrated did a cover story that reported a six-month investigation of the magazine’s pre-season Top 25 teams revealed that more than 200 players had been in trouble with the law.  Some 23.5 percent of Pitt’s scholarship players had criminal records, followed by Iowa, Arkansas, Boise State and Penn State.

Negative stories are reported almost daily on the sports pages about athletes, coaches and teams.  When athletes and administrators behave badly, they create scandals that become crises.  However, football should not be singled out as the only culprit nor should just the 119 institutions.  College basketball runs a close second contributing to crises.

When crises happen many exacerbate and become completely out of control because so many presidents and chancellors in higher education, like their CEO counterparts in the private sector, are in denial that they will ever have a crisis.  They are either unprepared or underprepared and too slow to respond.  The first hours of any crisis are critical in how an organization responds.

In the most recent scandal at Penn State, those responsible did everything wrong.  This will be a classic textbook case history of what not to do.  Following cover-ups and the fact that administrators allegedly lied to a grand jury, it appears as though lawyers took complete control.  Lawyers need to be constantly reminded that it is not against the law to publicly show empathy, remorse, or compassion for victims and their families.

In an era of information technology it is important to be transparent, honest, proactive and responsive.  Lawyers also must understand that it is far more important to win in the court of public opinion than it is in a court of law.

Costs of college football programs have been escalating out of control for years and to compensate for the costs of a major football program many schools have eliminated non-revenue, Olympic sports.  Too often those in charge wrongfully blame Title IX for their problem and the fact that their athletic program loses money.
I believe that before college and university presidents and chancellors reduce scholarships, the size of football teams, make a concerted effort to reduce costs and put a stop to greed that we will see college athletes represented by agents the way they are in professional leagues.  There are more college sports crises to come.  Stay tuned for the news.

Money and greed are the driving forces putting pressure on coaches to win and deliver championships.  The presidents and chancellors of the colleges and universities are the ones who must accept blame, accountability and responsibility.  However, they have done nothing to control the costs or relieve the pressure to win.

The 119 Division I or FBS football teams each have 125 players, 85 of whom are on scholarships.  This compares to 53 players on the roster of a professional National Football League team where only 47 dress for a game.  Some college coaching staffs are not only larger than those in the NFL, but the coaches are paid more money.  Even some assistant coaches make more than the college president.

This totals to 10,115 scholarships or 14,875 players.  The scholarship costs add up to millions of dollars.  Add to this the cost of travel, insurance, equipment, training, physical therapy, tutoring and other expenses.  Is this what education is all about?

I’ve asked a number of presidents, chancellors and former football coaches why team sizes couldn’t be reduced to no more than 75 players and scholarships to 55.  No one will give me a quotable answer.  Some coaches have told me that to reduce football scholarships would deprive a number of young men a college education.  I counter that the scholarships could be given to young men and women athletes in other sports including soccer, swimming, tennis, golf, gymnastics, track and field, and other sports rather than eliminating them from athletic programs.

You don’t have to take Econ 101 to know that with no loss of income and reduced expenses that profits will increase.  Or better yet, losses will decrease.  Regardless of the number of players on a team or scholarships, with a level playing field and everything being equal, television revenues will continue to increase as will gate receipts at games.  With their multitude of degrees, what is it that the leaders in higher education do not understand?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)  took the University of Southern California to task because an agent made a deal with the parents of a player before his graduation.  Because the enforcement committee believed USC should have prevented this from happening, it banned the Trojans from playing in a post-season bowl game for two years and took away 30 of its 85 scholarships.  According to Tim Tessalone, the Trojans’ sports information director, scholarships will be reduced by 10 in three consecutive years beginning in 2012.  “In fact, when we traveled to South Bend and beat Notre Dame 31-17, Coach Tiffin only took 55 scholarship players on the trip,” said Tessalone.  Since the NCAA believes USC can compete with only 55 scholarship players this should become the standard.

The NCAA and The Knight Commission have held a number of meetings on the subject of costs but its members — primarily college and university presidents and chancellors — have not taken any positive steps to curb the costs of football.  The governing bodies of the colleges also have done nothing to control the problem.  Most of the trustees and regents covet the perks they get from football.  At a number of public schools they pay anywhere from $50,000 to more than $100,000 to the governor’s political campaign be appointed to the board.  This is corruption at its highest level.  Investigative reporters at mainstream media should follow the money.  The producers at 60 Minutes need to make a call.

To try and balance budgets with increased revenues, many institutions are moving to different athletic conferences and abandoning long time rivalries and traditions.  Conferences were initially formed on a geographic and demographic basis but now teams in the east are aligning with conferences in the western part of the U.S. and vice-versa.

I believe that any increased revenues will disappear with the costs of traveling the non-revenue sports to new venues.  What is even worse is that many fans and the parents of the athletes will not be able to afford to travel to away games.  I doubt if any of those responsible for the change took the time to even consider this.

* * *

Rene A. Henry, a native of Charleston, WV,  spent 10 years of his professional career in higher education and his experience in sports spans five decades.  He now lives in Seattle, Washington, is the author of eight books, two on crisis management and communications, and he writes on a variety of subjects.  Many of his articles are posted on www.renehenry.com. For David M. Kinchen’s review of his book “Communicating in a Crisis,” click: www.huntingtonnews.net/…/080930-kinchen-columnsbookreview.ht..
Note from David M. Kinchen: In 1939, the University of Chicago, at the time a major football power, “The Monsters of the Midway,” coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg, abandoned intercollegiate football. The decision by the school’s president, Robert M. Hutchins, would provoke a major riot today! In 1954, ex-president Hutchins penned an essay in the new Sports Illustrated  magazine defending his decision as UC was making an effort to reinstate football on the South Side Chicago campus. It failed, but a few years ago, the school instituted a small intercollegiate football program. Here’s a link to the SI story, which is even more relevant today with football being the tail that wags the academic dog:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1128811/index.htm

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