Friday, August 24, 2007

Two Sporting Propositions

Bake Sales and Trash Pickup Help College Teams Stay Afloat -Penn State fencers, frequent NCAA champs, clean Beaver stadium after football games, even scraping the gum off the bottom of the seats. Some of the football players help out, the ones getting punished for fighting. Butler softball players get to clean the basketball arena. Utah swimmers have it easy, they cater the luxury boxes during the football games. Other "minor" sports sponsor bake sales and car washes. All these work projects and fundraisers fill budget gaps and keep the minor sports programs, which grant scholarships, alive. It may seem unfair, but consider the alternative. Just as Rutger's football turned the corner, swimming, crew and several other sports disappeared. Minor sports regularly vanish at the Division 1 schools. Title IX sometimes gets blamed, but the core problem is usually lack of funds, not the requirement that programs funded with state money provide for equal participation by women.

So - Nittany Lions - how about a sporting proposition. If the fencers finish higher than the football team in this year's NCAA rankings then the football team cleans its own stadium, turns the proceeds over to the fencers and participates in an exhibition fencing tournament as a fundraiser. All participants wear tights. If football ranks higher, the fencers clean again, and put on a skit as teenage mutant ninja turtles at the football awards dinner.

All this weirdness stems from the basic decision at most Division 1 (1 A in the case of men's football) schools to run football and basketball as a business. There are positive elements to this approach. A few successful programs consistently yield profits that help support other sports - although for many schools this is a mirage, encouraging futile investment to reach a goal that is always just out of reach. Even the programs that don't produce a steady income can win sometimes, boosting the spirits of students and alumni. Think about the Rutgers students spilling onto the field in a sea of red after last year's win over Louisville, and guess what it did for alumni donations and the number and quality of applications from incoming freshman.

As Good As News likes a good college ball game, but on balance running college sports as a business may do more harm than good. Some colleges, Williams for example, put enormous effort into recruiting, coaching and winning in a tremendous number of sports, but the goal is to develop the student (and maybe make the alumni a little happier), not fund the athletic department. MIT used to field teams in more sports than any other college, maybe it still does, but the goal was to compete hard at the level of the students , not recruit future pros.

How about one more wager, let's take a look at the income reported in the year 2018 by the members of the 2008 Williams football team and the 2008 University of Southern California Trojans, a preseason number one pick that will produce many professional athletes. First, As Good As News recognizes that income will not accurately measure the contribution, success or happiness of a teacher, musician, writer, curator, social worker, etc. Understood, but we need something we can count here. Now let's compare incomes in 2018 - the team with the higher income does nothing. Each member of the team with the lower income must donate 20% of his 2018 income to the athletic department of the winning school. Any takers gentlemen?

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