Athletics corporations are the answer

Public funds should be put toward academics. Athletics can fend for itself.

Recent news articles describe the campaign initiated by the University to press for more than $100 million in public funds for a football stadium on campus. Building a new football stadium is not the path the University should take as it restructures itself to lead the state in the global economy of the 21st century.

Two years ago the University had to absorb a cut of $185 million from a short-sighted state Legislature. This capped off a 30-year period during which state support for the University (as a percentage of total state appropriations) was cut in half. As a consequence, the University has increasingly been unable to meet the demand to educate our children in areas critical to the well-being of our state. In a time of chronic shortage of nurses, the School of Nursing turns away three of four applicants because it lacks the faculty and facilities to train more nurses. The same is true for the business school and for the College of Veterinary Medicine, and the list goes on.

In order to fulfill its role as an educational research institution (and thereby be an engine of economic development for the state) the University must be able to attract and retain highly qualified faculty members. Yet the past decline in state appropriations leaves the University to languish in the middle of the pack in faculty compensation.

In the 20th century intercollegiate athletics evolved from club teams to big business, especially in the primary revenue sports of men’s basketball and football. There was a transition from coaching local student-athletes to the national recruiting of young men merely for their athletic skills. The result has been an endless series of embarrassments for the University: the on-court riot instigated by the thugs recruited by Bill Musselman for the basketball team; the cash doled out by Luther Darville to the football players of Lou Holtz; the group sex after a basketball game in Madison by players recruited by Jim Dutcher; the academic fraud during the tenure of Clem Haskins; the abysmally low graduation rates for the men’s basketball and football teams.

The argument that winning programs in major college sports increases alumni contributions was exposed as a myth by Murray Sperber in his book, “Beer and Circus: How Big Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education.” As the University restructures itself for the 21st century, it must separate itself from the big business of training professional athletes.

There is a solution that would permit the University to disentangle itself while allowing those programs to continue. Establish the men’s basketball and football teams as separate corporations. The University would grant a license to those corporations to use the University name for the teams. The fee for the license would be a percentage of the revenues the corporations generate from ticket sales, broadcasting rights, advertising, etc. The University would use part of the license-fee income to support the nonrevenue sports it decides to retain, such as gymnastics and soccer. This is a solution which would enable the sports fans to continue to enjoy the games and enable the University to focus on its academic mission.

The University devotes significant time and resources to obtain public funds from the legislature. Its objective should be to use those public funds for academic programs, for academic facilities, for faculty compensation and for financial aid for students.

Michael W. McNabb is a University alumus. Please send comments to [email protected]