Higher Ed

Amid March Madness, Americans express concern about college sports spending

Sixteen men’s basketball teams are still alive in the N.C.A.A. March Madness tournament, including No. 7 Wichita State which knocked off No. 2 Kansas over the weekend.

Today March Madness brings to mind more than big upsets and broken brackets, though. The multi-billion-dollar college sports industry is increasingly answering questions about academic standards, player safety and growing inequities between coaches and athletes.

With tuition and fees on the rise, a poll from Monmouth University finds a majority of Americans think universities with big-time athletic programs spend too much time and money on sports. Perhaps no one knows that better than Mark Schlissel, president of the University of Michigan.

WGBH Radio’s Kirk Carapezza recently sat down with Schlissel for a rare one-on-one interview and asked him how big-time college sports impact the bottom line and identity of a major research university.

“Michigan is fortunate enough that our athletic program pays its own way,” Schlissel said. “Sports isn’t, for us, a drain on the enterprise. It’s a neutral in terms of costs and a big positive in terms of community.”

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics finds since 2008 Michigan has cut academic spending per student by 3 percent while increasing athletic spending per athlete by 36 percent. The Commission predicts that escalation in spending on coaching salaries and facilities will continue at rates disproportional to growth in academic spending. It says the disclosure of finance enhances the ability of colleges and universities to make sure athletic programs advance the mission of higher education.

“Data show that over the past decade, coaching salaries for major college football and basketball coaches soared while university academic budgets stagnated and pressure for greater player benefits intensified,” says Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission. “There is no evidence that the trends will stop absent a different financial regulatory approach or a shift in the incentives to reward educational outcomes, not just winning teams, more significantly.”

You can track athletic and academic spending by institution here.

This story was produced by WGBH and reprinted with permission. Reproduction is not permitted.

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