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Blame Title IX for NCAA's Financial Woes

Within the past week, NCAA basketball has been marred by two events that detract from the jubilant madness of the season. Rutgers head coach Mike Rice and its athletic director Tim Pernetti were fired after video surfaced of Rice physically and verbally abusing his players. And Louisville’s Kevin Ware suffered a devastating multiple compound leg fracture during an Elite Eight win against Duke. Both incidents have led to discussions about universities and coaches making a profit on the backs of student-athletes.    

My alma mater, Wichita State, made it to the Final Four before narrowly falling to Louisville on Saturday. The town is still buzzing, and I'm for once thinking that my time and money spent obtaining two degrees there was actually worth it. People around town are wearing Shocker black and gold instead of the red and blue of the University of Kansas.   

This unexpected publicity feels like a minor windfall to an alum like myself. Some studies show that schools benefit from successful NCAA bids. Applications increase shortly after a college team’s successful football or basketball season. This has been called the ‘Flutie Effect,’ named after Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie, who won the Heisman Trophy after defeating Miami on a Hail Mary toss. Wichita’s local paper noted the coming wave of alumni donations and improved applicant pool and even suggested that employers would find WSU degrees more impressive than before the team’s success. The increase in civic pride would help a school which, in a recent “Identity Research Project” found that locals compare the university to a station wagon or a Nissan while comparing nearby University of Kansas to a Cadillac or a Ferrari.  

At Reason, Nick Gillespie goes a long way toward crushing my optimism. Some evidence suggests that applicant test scores increase. Alumni donations too. But Gillespie points out that these are short-term gains, and they’re nothing by which schools should forge strategy. Gunning for a Final Four or a big football bowl is a sure way toward tuition hikes.  

Gillespie cites Wichita State’s 30 percent subsidy of the school’s sports programs, which come out of student fees and school funds. Its $21 million in revenue consists of $6.4 million in combined subsidies.  

Big-time college sports are often attacked from two sides. Libertarians like Gillespie eschew the government meddling and discount the non-economic benefits of moral and civic pride. This argument is similar to the one against a strong national defense and patriotism. Left-liberals tend to despise the culture of competition and the frat and tailgate parties and machismo that goes along with collegiate athletics. Rankings and status games are patriarchal and deserve no place at institutions of higher learning.  

Yet, leftists hold drum circles in support of Title IX and women’s sports. And Gillespie ignores the role that the historic piece of legislation plays in drawing the blood of university budgets.  

While not all men’s sports are profitable on their own, virtually none of women’s programs turn a stand-alone profit. At The Business of College Sports website, Kristi Dosh of ESPN notes that Title IX views college athletics not as a business but as a vehicle toward collegiate success. This view hampers discussions about the equitable treatment of student-athletes whose on-field and on-court success adds value to the school.    

Dosh points out that Title IX was cited by the NCAA as a roadblock to monetary stipends for student-athletes. Even though men’s football and basketball programs are much more likely to be profitable, there is no room under Title IX to pay the players of those particular sports. Schools would have to pay female athletes too despite the fact that they’re already a drain on school budgets. Essentially, paying Louisville’s Kevin Ware or the Rutgers kids would require the school to pay the women who play on those schools' teams.  

A report compiled by Bloomberg looked at the 53 public schools in the six largest athletic conferences and found that women’s programs lost over $109 million in total while men’s programs earned $240 million. While men’s coaches tend to earn more than women’s coaches, women’s teams get to go on the same road trips and play the same number of games and reap the same amenities as the men.  

Without a football program, basketball is Wichita State’s bread and butter. While the entire sports program receives funds from tuition and fees, the men’s basketball program itself is profitable. It earned $5.2 million in 2010 on expenses of $3.8 million. On paper, the women’s program technically broke even, spending $1.45 million and bringing in just as much revenue.

Dosh points to the University of Florida, whose men’s programs earn the school $45 million. Football itself earns $44 million while basketball earns $2.6 million. The entire women’s programs sops $6.9 million from the school, and the women’s basketball program itself is responsible for $2.1 million of that loss. The pattern is evident at programs across the nation.  

It would be nice to someday pay NCAA players whose talent and hard work benefit the school, coaches, students, and alumni. It would also be nice if those players weren’t hindered by a bulky piece of legislation that doesn’t account for the differences in the profitability and popularity of different sports

Chuck Ross is a freelance journalist living in Wichita, Kan.

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