Influence of athletics money on colleges, universities

The resignation this week of the University of Missouri system president appears to be more evidence of the heavy influence of athletics money on many college campuses.

Whether or not you believe President Tim Wolfe should have resigned amid student protests about racial incidents at the University of Missouri, it seems likely that he did so Monday because of the revenue at stake after 30 Missouri football players vowed to not play another game until Wolfe was gone. Later that day, R. Bowen Loftin, chancellor of the university’s flagship Columbia campus, said he would resign as well.

The African-American players were showing solidarity with students who said Wolfe failed to respond to racially charged situations on campus. Canceling Missouri’s game this weekend against Brigham Young University, according to media reports, would have cost the university at least $1 million in payments to BYU. That figure doesn’t take into account the potential loss of money from athletic boosters who make large donations to the university, nor does it account for losses to both the university and the Southeastern Conference that might have occurred if the strike continued.

Closer to home, even amid sexually charged accusations against the University of Louisville basketball program, coach Rick Pitino – a Hall of Famer who has won national championships at both Louisville and the University of Kentucky – has not been seriously pressured to resign and maintains the public support of university administrators. Basketball at U of L is big business: For four straight years, the Cardinals have been named college basketball’s “most valuable team” by, with an estimated program value of more than $38 million.

And here in Bowling Green, as Western Kentucky University’s football program rose during the last decade to the highest level of collegiate competition, some professors bemoaned the fact that facility enhancements and coaches’ salaries were robust, while academic faculty and staff came up short in regard to wage increases. At the same time, the lower-profile sports of swimming and men’s soccer – which typically don’t generate nearly as much revenue or draw comparable private donations as major sports such as football or men’s basketball – were not spared from the chopping block.

WKU’s swim program was suspended for five years after a former team member voiced allegations of hazing by teammates. And men’s soccer was canned in 2008, a move the university attributed to state budget cuts.

The soccer decision saves the university about $300,000 annually. It is unclear how much, if any, the swim team decision saves WKU, although it might strengthen the university’s position in a lawsuit filed by the accuser.

As Andy Schwarz, an economist who has been involved in lawsuits against the NCAA, described the Missouri situation to the New York Times: “The issues at Missouri are far more important than college football, but the Missouri athletes showed that the color that matters most is green.”

Right or wrong, that seems to be the case on many college campuses.

Bowling Green Daily News

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