Collegiate athletics is likely going to change significantly in the near future and we should think together about how we want to direct that change. Collegiate athletics is likely to become significantly more expensive soon as student-athletes will soon be paid or paid more. And there is a possibility that those expenses will further eat away at the academic “side” of higher education,
At most colleges and universities, athletics 1) already uses up too much money and is 2) given too much weight in admissions. Concerning 1, most athletic departments, especially outside the elite athletic conferences, are a net financial drain on universities. Revenue-generating sports currently help pay for non-revenue generating sports. It is often claimed, usually without much evidence, that this cost is compensated for by alumni giving which is motivated partly by alum bonding with the university through its high-profile sports teams and continuing to relate to it after they graduate via following its nationally prominent sports teams. Further, concerning 2, prowess in athletics, like playing the tuba well, is an achievement that could reasonably give one an advantage in admissions. But prowess in sports currently is given a much larger role in admissions than similar prowess outside of sports.
I am not here interested in discussing the question of whether it is good that student-athletes will be paid. (Parenthetically, I myself think that given what these athletes can command on the open market, it may prove difficult to maintain high profile college sports without paying the players.) Instead, I want to focus on the fact that that money will come from somewhere. Unless coordinated efforts are made from stake holders in the academy, those costs are likely to be borne, at least to some extent, by the academic “side” of the academy.
In my view, the present situation offers the opportunity to diminish the extent to which collegiate athletics costs money and interferes with other priorities in admissions. A possible future would involve fewer athletes getting into our schools largely due to their athletic prowess, offering the opportunity to re-direct admissions towards under-privileged, under-represented, and more academically talented students. I assume that title 9 will remain the law of the land and that we should support that. So we are largely talking about diminishing non-revenue generating sports while retaining overall title 9 levels of equality in men’s and woman’s athletics.
In practice what this means is a serious reduction in non-revenue generating sports in a way that is compatible with title 9. I suggest we argue for diminishing the extent to which non-revenue generating sports use up admissions slots and cost our school’s money. This would allow us to 1) re-direct admissions away from treating athletics skills (at least in non-revenue generating sports) as unique non-academic qualifications for entrance into our colleges and universities and 2) recoup some of the money gained by revenue generating sports for academic purposes rather than non-revenue generating sports.
This recommendation is a compromise. Revenue generating sports are so high profile in the academy, and perhaps so beloved by alum, that combating them, at least at this moment, is unlikely to be productive. (Football and CTE will need separate treatment.) But there is another clear path to reducing the extent to which athletics costs higher education money and admission slots. Pursuing this path seems to me more urgent given the significant increase in cost of collegiate athletics that is likely around the corner.
I have nothing against non-revenue generating sports. Indeed, I played one in college. But I see it as not central to the mission of higher education to support such activities beyond the club level.4