Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large)
Even before Penn State’s abuse scandal hit the headlines, many people were questioning the role MONEY plays in big-time college sports, and its disproportionate impact on University decision-making. While top-tier programs are often expensive to run, and some even operating in the red, Kojo explores the often-misunderstood economics of college athletics, including financially-motivated changes occurring at local schools like University of Maryland and Howard University.
- Skip Perkins Athletic Director, Howard University
- Jeffrey Orleans former executive director of the Ivy League; consultant for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics
- Dave Zirin Sports Editor, The Nation; Author, "The John Carlos Story" (Haymarket Books) and "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics, and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket Books)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, parking meter wars come to Southeast Washington. But first, it's counterintuitive. Most people think the nation's big-time football programs are cash cows for their schools, with lucrative ticket sales, TV contracts and merchandise deals filling their coffers.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn fact, according to NCAA numbers, only 20 or 30 athletics programs in the country actually generate enough external revenue to cover their operating expenses. In an era of high-paid coaches, far-flung conferences and state-of-the-art facilities, it's expensive to compete, whether you win or lose. With the recent events at Penn State raising new questions about high-stakes college sports, we're exploring the often misunderstood economics of these athletics programs, why are eight varsity sports on the block at the University of Maryland while Howard University is nearly doubling its athletics budget.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWell, joining us in studio to have this conversation is Dave Zirin, sports editor with The Nation. Zirin, good to see you again.
MR. DAVE ZIRINHey, great to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Louis "Skip" Perkins, athletic director, Howard University. Skip Perkins, thank you for joining us.
MR. SKIP PERKINSThank you for having me also.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Princeton, N.J. is Jeffrey Orleans, former executive director of the Ivy League and a consultant for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Jeffrey Orleans, thank you for joining us.
MR. JEFFREY ORLEANSKojo, thank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIAs usual, you can join this conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. How important do you think athletics are to the prosperity of a university? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to email@example.com, or you can simply go to our website and join the conversation there at kojoshow.org. Jeffrey Orleans, allow me to start with the big football schools, huge television contracts, packed stadiums.
NNAMDIThese programs give one the impression that they're profitable, but quite a few Division I schools seem to spend more on football than they bring in. Why are their expenses higher than their income?
ORLEANSWell, that's a great question. I just -- I want to start by emphasizing, as you did, that these are the Division I schools at the top of the competitive and spending pyramid, and probably 80 percent of the collegiate and two-year athletic programs in the country have very different models. They're not expected to turn a profit. Their institutions invest in them as an experience for their student athletes and as a community building experience.
ORLEANSAnd they go on about their athletic lives kind of under the radar of the issues that we're talking about. At the top of Division I, there has been such an influx of revenue in the last 20 years, and such a sense that more revenue is possible, that many schools and many conferences, I think, have simply begun what many people call an arms race, thinking that the more they spend, the more successful they can be in getting a piece of that pie.
ORLEANSAnd so there have been added facilities, added travel, added coaching numbers, added expenses for coaching salaries and for recruiting and essentially an economy that seems to be open-ended without any real check on expenses and without very much public accountability that might lead to that kind of check on expenses.
NNAMDIAt the University of Maryland, the athletics program has spent more than it earned for several years now. The panel that's recommending cutting eight varsity teams said that with fewer sports Maryland could spend more per athlete on those that remain. Why is higher per athlete spending desirable? By the way, the president of the University of Maryland says he is inclined to go along with those recommendations, but your turn, Jeffrey Orleans.
ORLEANSWell, I can't -- I wouldn't, as a -- on behalf of the Knight Commission, want to comment on a particular institution, but I think one of the issues here is always the sense that if we can spend more, we can simply be more competitive. Our athletes will have better resources. We'll be able to recruit more widely. And, of course, if everybody always think they'll get better by spending more, everybody will always try and spend more.
ORLEANSAnd at some point, you come to those choices like those of Maryland where the -- no matter how high the revenue is, you'd let the expenses outstrip the revenue. The Knight Foundation has advocated a number of different ways to try and reallocate all this conference and national television revenue so it would be based on -- at least partly on academic achievement, which would give people a sense that they ought to be focusing on how their athletes succeed off the field, as well as on the field.
ORLEANSBut it's been very hard for people to break themselves out of this spiral, and the Maryland report and other reports like that, I think, are a good indication of that.
NNAMDIDave Zirin, according to the Washington Post, Maryland ranks dead last in the ACC and spending per athlete at $67,000. If Maryland offered only 19 sports instead of the current 23, its per athlete spending would jump to $107,000. The sixth highest in the soon-to-be expanded -- excuse me -- 14-team ACC. Why is that important?
ZIRINWhy is it important? Because it is as the gentleman said. This is an arms race. They do believe that more spending per athlete means more revenue, particularly when you're talking about the revenue-producing sports of football and basketball on the men's side at most schools. Now, when I hear a lot of college presidents talk, I mean, they remind me of folks who are at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where there happens to be an open bar in the corner.
ZIRINBecause they're constantly talking about how they have to break from these habits of being so addicted to football revenue, so addicted to revenue-producing sports, and, yet, that's where the money keeps going. Look at Ohio State. Ohio State is an incredible example of how the culture of this works and how difficult it is to break from the culture. Woody Hayes, the famous Ohio State coach from the late '70s, at his peak made $42,000 a year, $42,000 a year.
ZIRINJim Tressel, who just had to resign in disgrace after a series of scandals at Ohio State, made a base salary, not including a lot of the bells and whistles, of $3.5 million a year, $3.5 million. And then the news came -- has been out over the weekend that -- where is Ohio State now looking for a new permanent coach? Urban Meyer, the most sought after free-agent coach on the market who will command easily something north of $3.5 million, so it -- despite when we wring our hands about the culture of college sports, when people from overseas look at us and say I can't believe the way you guys run your collegiate systems as minor leagues for major sports.
ZIRINDespite all of this, it seems like we still don't learn and still follow the same paths. And, frankly, what I think they're doing now at Maryland is a disgrace. They're paying Ralph Friedgen $2 million this year, their ex-coach.
NNAMDITo not coach.
ZIRINTo not coach. Gary Williams, ex-basketball coach, half a million dollars a year to be a consultant...
NNAMDITo not coach.
ZIRIN...to not coach. Meanwhile, track and field on the chopping block.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. If you're just joining the conversation, we're talking about the economies of college sports with Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, Jeffrey Orleans, former executive director of the Ivy League and a consultant for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and Skip Perkins, athletic director of Howard University. Skip Perkins, less than a year ago, Howard University's then-new president Sidney Ribeau pledged a new commitment to fielding competitive sports teams starting with a 45 percent increase in the athletics budget by next year.
NNAMDIHe brought you on board, and you've hired new coaches for football and men's basketball. Why the new interest? Why the new investment in athletics? How will the university benefit if it can start winning more games and even championships?
PERKINSWell, I think one of the most important things to realize about Howard University, there's a mandated excellence in everything we do. We have an athletic program, so we should be held accountable to being excellent also. First and foremost, what the president said when he said recommitment to athletics was he mentioned, first and foremost, the classroom.
PERKINSWe're going to be committed to the classroom and not just putting additional dollars to renovate Burr Gymnasium, which is a campus-shared facility, but also new academic advisers, more academic resources, the moving of part-time coaches to full-time coaches, improving that student ratio -- student athlete ratio to coach ratio. The athletic department has a unique responsibility to recruit, showcase, expose an institution in a positive light. The BCS and FCS models are different.
PERKINSWe're not expected to turn a revenue, but we are expected to, you know, showcase the institution in a positive light.
NNAMDIHoward University is spending, as we have made reference to early, $6 million to renovate Burr Gymnasium. But renovation of the football stadium at the University of Maryland in the '90s is one of the reasons Maryland's athletics are strapped for cash. The Washington Post says the new luxury suites and other stadium improvements failed to increase attendance at football games. And the school now spends more than 10 percent of its athletics budget servicing the debt on athletic facilities. So what's the basis on which Howard decided to invest in improving the gym?
PERKINSWell, I think what they realize -- Burr Gymnasium is not just an athletic facility. It's also where we -- every arm of our campus uses it at some time or another. We hold special events in there. We have classes in there, locker rooms for our faculty and staff and our students, so there is no part of our campus community that doesn't use that gym at some time.
NNAMDIAnd on rain days, I have hosted commencement activities there.
PERKINSAbsolutely. So it's a campus shared, and our biggest draw -- well, biggest difficulty for us is just scheduling. At some time or another, you're a student, faculty staff, administrator, you're going to come in Burr Gymnasium for something other than athletics. But it is the face of athletics also. So we have a lot of arms who do good job sharing that facility, but we're -- those other areas you talk about renovating or changing or fixing on Howard University, you know, we're going to have to worry about some other parts of academics before we can ever think about that.
NNAMDIAnd why didn't they spend it when I was still working at Howard University?
NNAMDIAnyway, Jeffrey Orleans, at many schools, athletic budgets are rising faster than education budgets, and the funding schools give their sports programs rising faster than both. Why is that?
ORLEANSAgain, it's a function of -- well, it's a function of two things. The slowdown, or indeed the negative slope, in academic spending is a function of what we've all seen in the economy over the last, you know, three to five years, the reduction in state support, reduction in private giving, reduction in endowment levels, the need to try and make up for that with tuition increases, which is very difficult at a time when, you know, the economy is difficult and when financial aid is difficult.
ORLEANSSo the slowdown, or indeed the negative slope, in academic spending has to do with the larger economy. The increase in athletic spending, again, as Skip suggested, is very different at the top 110 or so schools in what the NCAA calls the football bowl division, where there are these huge TV packages, lots of gate revenue, lots of conference revenue and where there's both revenue and not very much discipline in spending.
ORLEANSBut that is very different from what you see across the bottom of Division I, Division II, Division III, the NAIA, where schools are not increasing their athletic spending in this kind of way because they don't have the money to do it, and they're trying to discipline themselves in the same way that the academic and student affairs folks are having to discipline themselves.
ORLEANSAnd, indeed, I think one of the real issues here is we are so focused on big-time football and basketball, as we should be in this instance -- that's what the -- where the dollars are -- that the 30 or so other kinds of sports that are played at four or five different levels across the country are often ignored. And there's often the assumption that those sports have plenty of money, and they don't, and -- or that some of the other ills that we see in big-time athletics are infecting many of those other sports, which is generally not the case.
ORLEANSSo I think it's important to note, first of all, that this is first and foremost an issue of revenue in football and basketball. And, secondly, the increases in athletic spending come from a system which has been designed by the bowl championship and football bowl division schools to give them control over that money, to share it only in very minimal ways and to have a system of incentives that rewards athletic spending and athletic success rather than rewarding academic success. It's just...
NNAMDIUnderscoring the point you're making, according to the Knight Commission to which you're a consultant, in the Football Bowl Subdivision, from 2005 to 2009, athletic spending per athlete rose 50 percent, while academic spending per student rose 22 percent, and institutional funding for athletics per athletes rode -- rose 53 percent. Zirin, I'd like to respond to the point that Irene is going to make. Irene is calling in from Washington, D.C. Irene, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. I know you wanted to make a point about this issue.
IRENEI did. Thank you very much for taking my call today. I'm just trying to ratchet back a little bit here and get some perspective on this. It was my belief -- and I graduated from college in 1969, so I may just be too far over the hill. But it was my understanding that colleges are there as institutions of higher learning. And it just seems like athletics have gotten way out of control, and our focus has been misplaced.
IRENEAnd, again, my understanding is that the way we operate athletics departments is to teach people how to be better sportsmen and learn the rules or the ways of collegial interaction. It just seems to me like the emphasis has gone way overboard. And athletics has taken the spotlight, and academics has faded into the background.
ZIRINYeah. I mean, I think I would say to Irene, with all due respect, that, you know, Norman Rockwell has left the building. I mean, it just -- it hasn't been that wholesome for quite some time. Although I do want to point out that you have -- there are records of W.E.B. Du Bois a century ago, decrying the influence of what he called king football when he saw that the football budget at Yale was seven times that of the liberal arts budget. And he asked questions about how that might metastasize over the course of time. And the way it has, I think, would even make W.E.B. Du Bois gobsmacked at the way it operates at this point.
ZIRINEverybody is correct when they speak about this idea that the top 100 schools are the ones that we're really talking about, the top -- a little more than 100 schools that are BCS eligible, but I would venture that, of those 100 schools -- I don't have the exact numbers -- but I'm sure, with very few exceptions, all of the state colleges are in that top 100, from Penn State to University of Maryland, Ohio State, the big public institutions that are counted on by in-state residents to be able to go to in a way that's affordable and get a top flight education at the same time.
ZIRINAnd these are folks who, I think, are being the most radically underserved as we have this discussion. I was just at the University of Oregon, which has gotten hundreds of millions of dollars from Phil Knight and the Nike Corporation. There are buildings there that are built specifically for the athletes at the University of Oregon that are profoundly nicer than my house. I went into the...
NNAMDII've been to your house.
ZIRINWell, I'll tell you, the bathroom at the athletic services building, the bathroom alone, I was thinking maybe I could move in a cot here and -- but, I mean, it was, like, inlaid black marble, all the rest of it. And this is at a school, where, at the same time, professors have to take -- I think they had to take six days of furlough last semester, unpaid furlough, just to make up a budget gap.
ZIRINSo it's the fact that the state colleges are so radically underserved, I think, speaks to, I think, one of the big concerns here that because of our obsession with football and the rewards that football could possibly provide -- although, in most cases, does not provide -- has meant, literally, millions of students not getting the education they'd otherwise be able to have.
NNAMDIJeffrey Orleans, Dave Zirin talked about W.E.B. Du Bois in Yale. You were director of the Ivy League conference for 25 years, stepping down, I think, in 2009. How did you think about the investment in athletics there compared to the investment in academics?
ORLEANSWell, we were a different conference, as indeed, as I said, and many conferences are, even in Division I. We did not expect, in the Ivy League, our athletic programs to generate very much revenue, certainly not net revenue. We expected them to serve an educational and community function. We expected the athletes to be real students, and they are and were. And athletics was budgeted in the same way that academic departments were budgeted.
ORLEANSAs part of an overall institutional effort, I know for sure that athletics, the athletics budget at Yale is a very small fraction of the overall budget. It's very different from what it was in W.E.B. Du Bois' description. And it's certainly very different from what it was in Oregon. And part of that is that the Ivy League institutional communities, like a lot of other institutions, made a decision that they wanted athletics to have a different place, made that decision in the mid-'50s, and have had kind of kept firm to that.
ORLEANSI think the real paradox for the big institutions that David was describing is that those institutions have been doing what they're doing for 15 or 20 or 25 years. And their publics seem agreeable to that. You know, the stadiums are filled. People pay a lot of money to be season ticket holders. The TV ratings are high. Legislators who vote for money that will rescue an athletic department in deficit are re-elected. And so, I think, part of the real paradox is that there's a culture that supports this kind of big-time athletic endeavor as, in fact, there has been for probably 140 years in this country (word?).
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt, Jeffrey Orleans. I have to take a short break.
NNAMDIWhen we come back, we will continue this conversation on the economics of college sports. If you have called, we'll try to get to your calls. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about the economics of college sports. We're talking with Louis "Skip" Perkins. He is athletic director at Howard University. Jeffrey Orleans is former executive director of the Ivy League and the consultant for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. And Dave Zirin is sports editor with The Nation. We're taking your calls, 800-433-8850. Here is Paul in Chevy Chase, Md. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULYeah. Hello. Well, I'd like to preface what I'm about to say by saying that I played a whole lot of sandlot football as a kid, which I really, really enjoyed. But it was, like, without pads and pretty wide open, and -- but I ended up playing soccer, actually, because, I think, it was more suited to my physique. But I wanted to say -- I don't know if this is, like, going too far for this conversation, but, over the years, I'd really come to question the existence of the sport of football itself. And I don't know if that's something that can be openly discussed. But I think it's -- I mean, you seem -- hello?
NNAMDIGo ahead, Paul. We're still listening to you. The silence that you hear is not religious reference. We know we're talking about sports here.
ZIRINNo. That was Department of Homeland Security. You say you don't like football. They'll be at your house in 10 minutes.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Paul.
PAUL(unintelligible) anyway, it just seems like you have to be either this -- to play at the highest level, you have to be, like, either a super athlete or really big. And then it just -- I don't know. I think it creates sort of almost a warrior cult kind of mentality, in addition to the incredible expenses that go into all the pads and equipment and all the layers of coaches involved. It's, like, highly regimented.
PAULI just -- and the amount of injuries that are involved. The head injuries are finally -- after all these years, people are starting to talk about. I just think it's kind of a dangerous game, and I think we should really start to question it.
NNAMDIWell, Skip Perkins, that horse has left the barn, hasn't it?
NNAMDII don't think it's going back in.
PERKINSThere's lot of attention to football now more than ever, but I would say it is a violent sport. It is a tough sport. But it's also the ultimate team sport. It takes a lot to be a quality football program. And I can address the fact that the issues with concussions and head injuries are under the microscope more now than ever before, trying to be pro-active and things like that. But I think football is definitely here to stay.
NNAMDIAnd, as Paul pointed out, Dave Zirin, it's a violent sport, but mixed martial arts is now broadcast on television networks. It's gaining popularity. It's a violent sport.
ZIRINAlthough I would point out, in mixed martial arts, they call it very quickly if you get a couple of blows to the head.
NNAMDIThat's true. They claim they have less concussions than they do in professional boxing.
ZIRINYeah. Yes, yes. And that's backed up.
NNAMDIBut, Zirin, let's talk about TV revenues for the big football conferences.
NNAMDIThe ACC signed a $1.8 billion contract with ESPN and ABC that will give each school roughly $12 million next school year. But even within a conference of 10 or 12 or 14 schools, there can be huge variation in the economics of their sports programs.
ZIRINNo -- well, partly, it's the trend towards mega conferences. Because no one wants to be left out of the pie situation altogether, they will join these mega conferences with the hope of getting a piece of that. Yet, of course, the issue then is involved is that it's a lot more than just TV money. It's about booster support. It's about how many butts are in the seats beforehand. It's about the passion index that your school happens to engender among the local crowd and that University of Maryland has -- I think you could make the case that it's really never been a football school.
ZIRINI mean, it's always had very good football players, and we could name people from Boomer Esiason and Neil O'Donnell, et cetera.
ZIRINBut you can't speak about it being a football school in the same way. And so that's when the leadership at the school have to make that decision. Do we push the chips into the middle of the table and go for it? Or do we try to be conservative and say, look, we're not going to sacrifice everything for the chance that we can catch on as a big football program? I think if you chart it, you'll see that the University of Maryland has made a series of really, really poor choices with how they accentuate football. And now all of the athletes on campus, and students as well, are paying the price.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. How would you reduce the expenses associated with college sports programs? 800-433-8850. Jeffrey Orleans, travel is a big expense for sport teams. How are travel expenses growing, and what can schools do about that?
ORLEANSWell, there are a number of things. Travel, certainly, is very expensive. One way to do that is to reduce the number of contests, to reduce the number of, you know, spring soccer games and fall lacrosse games, to try and have conferences that are more geographically contiguous the way they were 50 years ago.
NNAMDIBack in the day.
ORLEANSBack in the day, and it wasn't a bad day. People were just as excited about football and other sports. When Aileen (sp?) and I were in college long ago, as they are now, there was just less television. So a part of the issue is simply making the endeavor smaller. And, by the way, that would also give student athletes more time to be students and fewer athletic pressures, more time to think about their academics year round. The travel is certainly a big part of it, but it's not the only part of it.
ORLEANSAnd part of the issue is deciding whether you're going to build your budget around where you think the revenue is going to come from, or whether you're going to build your budget around what it's reasonable to spend in a productive way that also accounts for the fact that revenue may go down. And Dave is right about the variation in revenue. And when people who have less revenue try and spend to keep up with people who have more revenue, their athletes get strained, and they wind up in deficit situations very frequently.
NNAMDISkip Perkins, I attended a forum that former Washington sports editor George Solomon hosted about college athletics or college football, in particular. And it had to with why there were less percentage of minority coaches in big-time college football than there were in the NFL, and one of the points they'd made had to do with some coaches' reluctance to do fundraising. Your coaches are expected to do some outside fundraising to help support their programs.
NNAMDIWhat percentage of their budgets comes from fundraising -- and what they were saying in that forum is that a couple of the coaches are saying, yeah, we love to coach college, but the fundraising thing, we don't want to have to do too much.
PERKINSWell, yeah, we challenge our coaches to raise additional funds. And one of the biggest areas that supports them is recruiting. We -- that is probably 10 percent of their budget across the board, and we do challenge our coaches to recruit. And they do a very good job. They reach out to former players in that sport, make the connection, and they go from there. But they've done a pretty good job, and it also helps our football coaches -- he's an alum of Howard University and well connected, and he's done a tremendous job there.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here's Rick in Tysons Corner, Va. Rick, your turn.
RICKGood afternoon. I have long heard that even for those schools that appear to be operating in the black, but they really don't operate in the black because the cost of the stadium, practice facilities and even some staff aren't directly charged to the football program, that they're really on some other line item, part of the budget for the school. Is there any truth of that that? Is it the biggest lie in accounting or is that not the case?
ORLEANSWell, as the Knight Commission has pointed out, one of the big black areas in athletic accounting is that debt service is often not reported. And, indeed, there's not anything like a uniform, complete, transparent reporting system in Division I, or elsewhere for that matter. And so we recommended for many years that there be that kind of very clear, very complete reporting of all expenditures, wherever it comes, wherever they come from, that would tell people that. I think the figures by and large are substantial enough so that we know the truth, which is that most programs are running at a deficit.
ORLEANSIf we had complete figures, I think we'd see that those deficits are bigger. But we already know enough to know that we need to change the way folks allocate money and that we need a reporting system that will make people much more accountable to the public and their legislatures and their trustees and alumni.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Rick. Here is Sarah in Fairfax, Va. Sarah, your turn.
SARAHHi. Thanks for having me on. I just wanted to make a comment quickly about the athletes that do not participate in the fund-generating end of the sports spectrum because I rowed at a Division I school for four years in my academic career. And crew is a sport that no one comes to see and doesn't bring any money, so the travel is expensive, the equipment is expensive. And those sports depend on the money generating -- revenue generating, like football and basketball, in order to even have any funding.
SARAHAnd so I feel for those students that University of -- that may be losing their, you know -- that are losing their sports because of the way that they're, you know, deciding to change the budget.
ZIRINYeah, but there is the trick, isn't it? I mean, you have a lot of sports that depend on the revenue-producing sports. But what do you if those revenue-producing sports not only do not make revenue, but are actually a whirlpool of deficit and are then sucking money out of other sports programs? Which is what, I think, you see happening very clearly at the University of Maryland. That's why there needs to be some sense of fiscal balance when an athletic budget is looked at, so we can make sure that, at the bare minimum, everybody gets what they need to get.
ZIRINWhen you have situations like former coaches being -- getting paid $2 million a year not to coach, you know you're in a system then -- and, by the way, Ralph Friedgen, just putting this out there (unintelligible), but, you know, the first ever ACC Coach of the Year fired, after winning coach of the year award, and then being paid $2 million to not coach. When you get in these situations like that, when you get in arms races to hire people like Urban Meyer, you develop a situation that is only tenable for a tiny, tiny sliver of colleges on the landscape.
ZIRINAnd then you create these other situations, which, I think, are moral questions more than economic questions, and, in most states, the highest paid public employee is the football coach.
NNAMDIWell, you're talking about Maryland. Allow me to continue along that line because the California baseball team was saved by private donations after being targeted for a complete cut, went to the College World Series in 2011. UC Berkeley said it was cutting five sports last year. Private donor stepped up, raised enough money to save some of the teams. On the other hand, when James Madison dropped 10 sports in 2006, alumni sued. Any idea how things might go at the University of Maryland?
ZIRINThat's a great question. I mean, it'll be interesting to see if people rise up to raise money for these sports. I think the track and field team, in particular, has a terrific following and a terrific pedigree in history. I think that's what we're going to have to wait and see happen. Although, you know what I'd like to see? I'd like to see the athletes of the sports that are being cut, occupy the gymnasium. We need to occupy athletic department at the University of Maryland. Their voices need to be heard. At the very least, it would ensure, as we've seen in the broader Occupy Movement, a more full discussion of the issues at the play.
NNAMDIJeffrey Orleans, tell us a little bit about your asteroid hypothesis or asteroid theory and why it may be time for a new model of funding in college sports completely?
ORLEANSMy fear is that the Earth-ending asteroid, the asteroid that could wipe out life on a planet again, we'll see the equivalent in college athletics. It could be an anti-trust lawsuit. It could be a revocation of tax exemptions. It could be a real blow to the economy that reduces this television revenue. And there are four or five different ways that we could wind up with either government intervention or some kind of economic downturn that will drastically reduce the money on which the top programs are counting.
ORLEANSThey've already built the buildings. They've already signed the coaches' contracts. They've already set up these patterns of expenditures. And my theory is that an asteroid will drop out of the sky. There will be a real decrease in revenues, and the conferences that are at the top will not have a plan for how to respond. And not only will their athletic economies be wrecked, but the trickle-down effect will hurt rowing athletes and soccer athletes and athletes that -- all over the country in all kinds of college programs.
NNAMDIWell, does your theory include how does a college, how does a university, oh, like Howard or American, prepare for that?
ORLEANSWell, it does. And, you know, part of the issue is to use the conference that you're in to try and be coaching at the conference level. But part of it, also, is the hope that -- to come back to where we started -- that college presidents at all these institutions will find a way to come together and in a reasonable way that preserves the excitement that sports at its best can generate is financially rational.
ORLEANSIt's not undoable, but it does mean that presidents need to be willing to take those choices and that the leadership with the NCAA needs to be willing to advocate for those choices and to try and do something different. It's not impossible, but it won't happen accidentally.
ZIRINI'd just love to ask Jeffrey a question, just given everything we've seen coming out of Penn State. And this seems like a bizarre question to ask. But given the entrenched power of some of the football programs and especially some of the football coaches, are college presidents powerful enough to affect the kind of change that you're talking about?
NNAMDIGood question. Jeffrey.
ORLEANSWell, I don't know the answer to that. I do know that I'm not sure who can do it if presidents don't. And presidents deal with these kinds of very tough issues with powerful alumni and other interests outside of athletics in their institutions all the time. And we have that expectation that they will be able to come together and do that. It's a great question. What I would say is that if somehow the large public can't bring presidents together to do that and give them the incentive and the desire to do that, then it's not clear to me who will do it -- short of a judge and a lawsuit who will force people to do it without any choice.
NNAMDIThere's that, too.
ORLEANSAnd my asteroid theory is designed to get people an incentive to think about it first.
NNAMDIJeffrey Orleans, thank you for joining us.
ORLEANSGlad to be here. Thank you so much.
NNAMDIJeffrey Orleans is former executive director of the Ivy League, consultant for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Dave Zirin, thank you for joining us.
ZIRINOh, my privilege. And give a big shout out to Akame, (sp?) a big Kojo fan listening in Takoma Park.
NNAMDIDave Zirin is the sports editor with The Nation. Skip Perkins, thank you for joining us.
PERKINSThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDISkip Perkins is athletic director of Howard University. And good luck to you.
PERKINSThank you, sir.
NNAMDIWhich means I got to shout a -- give a good-luck shout out to my man Keith Gill, the athletic director at American University. Also, Keith, good luck to you, too. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, parking meter wars in Southeast and how they're turning out. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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