HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel recently aired a story about college athletics’ cost to students. The segment featured Rutgers athletic programs. Correspondent Jon Frankel’s story left some troubling, inaccurate impressions.
Frankel’s piece opened with shots of Rutgers’ first Big Ten Conference football game against Penn State on September 13, 2014. As game video rolled, Frankel said, "This is the scene at Rutgers University on a Saturday night in the fall. It's the biggest party in New Jersey. Everything young people dream of when they go off to college. But, when morning comes and all that's left is the bill, some on campus say it was less a dream than a nightmare.''
The story detailed athletic program costs to students and institutions. Among those interviewed was Rutgers economics professor, Dr. Mark Killingsworth. Dr. Killingsworth is regular contributor to media stories focusing on Rutgers athletic costs. He noted "…if more students knew what they were paying and what they were getting, I think they’d be outraged."
Dr. Killingsworth insinuated profit-making sports—football and men’s basketball—are sucking money out of students’ pockets. He believes student funds are used to pay big coaching salaries, provide luxury boxes for large contributors and build deluxe facilities. He is wrong.
Football and men’s basketball are not the cause of athletic deficits. They turn a profit and are self-sustaining. The coaches’ salaries, luxury boxes and the facilities do not lose money—they MAKE money. Yet, those two programs are typically targets in stories about the cost of college athletics.
The athletic deficit devil lives in the other 20 men’s and women’s sport programs. They are either non-revenue producing or their expenses exceed gate and media receipts.
What’s the answer? Should Rutgers cancel all non self-sustaining sports? Hardly.
Title IX requires schools to provide equal athletic opportunities for women and men. An equal number of sports opportunities must be provided to both genders. If an identical sport doesn’t exist—others must make up the difference.
If a school provides amenities for men’s teams it must provide similar amenities for women’s teams. It doesn’t matter if the sport is profitable or not, Title IX requires equal opportunity.
All Rutgers women’s sports (and seven men’s sports) cost more than the money they bring in, this was shown by Bob Cancro in a series of articles earlier this year. Should we cancel all money-losing men and women’s sports? Who believes that is a good idea? Hands, hands?
Full disclosure: my daughter was a D1 athlete and participated in a non-revenue ACC school sport. I support non-revenue sports for the lessons taught that cannot be learned in a classroom—as well as the intangibles that cannot be measured. I fully support Title IX—as I am sure Dr. Killingsworth does.
The real story is simple. When you attack institutional support of athletics, Olympic and women’s sports are the prime targets—not football or men’s basketball. Those athletes deserve support for the countless hours they compete for their school. They do it not for careers or glory—but for the love of the sport and their school.