Colleges lose focus

Schools nationwide have been investing more money into athletics rather than education.

The NCAA is a frequent target for criticism for promoting college sports at the expense of academics and sometimes the players themselves.

This editorial board in particular has been critical of how the NCAA neglects the health and safety of college athletes through its ambiguous concussion policy and decision to leave drafting and enforcing specific protocol to each individual school.

The NCAA has a clear role in promoting the exploitation of student-athletes, particularly Division I athletes who are pivotal in making college sports a multibillion-dollar industry.

However, in many ways, the central governing structure over college sports often casts a shadow over the role that individual colleges and universities have in promoting sports over academics.

Last fall, Grambling State University football players refused to travel for a scheduled game in order to protest the poor conditions of their athletic complex, citing issues with mold, mildew and poorly cleaned uniforms that can cause staph infections. The Grambling State case served as a graphic reminder that colleges often have just as much a role in exploiting student-athletes as the NCAA, if not more. We believe college administrators should receive more scrutiny for their work in prioritizing athletics over academics.

The American Association of University Professors released a report Monday, which revealed that while spending on instruction, research and public service declined or remained flat, most colleges and universities have rapidly increased their spending on sports, The New York Times reported.

The most surprising aspect about the report, titled “Losing Focus,” is that the increased spending is not restricted to Division I schools, but in fact, it found that the fastest growth in athletic spending was at Division III schools without football programs, where spending for each student-athlete more than doubled in eight years.

The spending patterns at community colleges are similarly disturbing. According to the report, from 2004 to 2011, community colleges’ educational spending declined while athletic spending increased by 35 percent per athlete.

A figure that may be particularly surprising to University of Minnesota students and faculty is that public four-year colleges in all divisions have increased athletic spending by 24.8 percent even as public service and research expenditures declined, according to the report.

Saranna Thornton, a co-author of the report, told the Times that athletic spending at Division II and III schools and community colleges has attracted little notice because they don’t receive much television time or attention from the media. But what’s been missing is the fact that lower division colleges have been creating strong and well-funded sports programs to use as a recruitment tool.

If anything, this report demonstrates that the practice of promoting athletics over academics is far more pervasive in higher education than we once thought. Though Division II and Division III colleges don’t see the millions that Division I colleges do from lucrative TV contracts and ticket sales, administrators clearly find spending on athletics to be beneficial as a means of recruiting students, even as spending on academics remains flat or stagnates.

Telling college officials to reprioritize academics is unlikely to do much good. But we hope that this report will spur more research and media attention on the issue and result in more scrutiny of the college athletics spending that is happening in all
divisions.