South Park on college athletics

Last night's episode of South Park was basically one long (largely evenhanded) metaphor about college athletics. I enjoyed the episode, and enjoy the show and its humor. Surely, any piece of entertainment that treats Slash as a mythical character and even contemplates the concept of "Crack Baby Basketball" is not meant to be taken 100% seriously. The episode wasn't offensive (well, it might be to some people who would probably have a problem with the show in general), but I do want to briefly get super-pedantic and discuss the overall theme of the episode so that this information is out there if only as a reference.

Nitpick #1: the concept of a crack baby is a remnant of early 90's War on Drugs hysteria, and is a myth without any scientific validity. Studies have shown that when pregnant mothers use cocaine, and their infants are subsequently born with cognitive deficits, any developmental issues are largely caused by malnutrition and other environmental problems that are largely correctable and reversible. This myth's effects aren't as bad as say, the tabloid-driven movement against vaccination, but the concept of crack babies is responsible for a lot of awful drug war policy.

Nitpick #2: There are certainly abuses in high-level college athletics (such as scandals involving the Ohio State boosters, or the Fiesta Bowl.) However, most athletic departments lose money, and receive subsidies from their parent institutions to the tune of about $10 million a year. This happens because men's basketball and football are the only two scholarship sports that make a profit on average. Indeed, the concept of widespread largess in the halls of academia seems ludicrous when considering how universities across the country are increasingly facing revenue shortfalls.

This is a misconception that unfortunately persists, owing to widespread media and fan ignorance about how athletic departments report their revenue and expenses. Self-appointed experts like Kristi Dosh frequently cite the Department of Education's Equity in Athletics cutting tool, which the NCAA has dismissed as "meaningless." The only good data largely comes from USA Today's collection of Revenue and Expense reports, which they compiled through a painstaking series of public records requests. That database doesn't include every school, and doesn't have a sport-specific breakdown, but the alternative are numbers that shouldn't be used for anything besides proving that USF cheats on Title IX compliance.

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