Drexel University has 18 Division I varsity sports teams, but football isn’t one of them. And university president John A. Fry thinks other schools should follow suit.
“At Drexel we recognize the benefits of sports but are not burdened by the distractions that come with maintaining a football program,” Fry wrote in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal on Sunday. “Drexel hasn’t fielded a team since 1973 when administrators realized its budget burden.”
Fry cites statistics from a Huffington Post report in November that highlights how much money universities are pouring into athletics, often at the expense of students. The study found that in the last five years, public universities have pumped more than $10.3 billion in mandatory student fees and other subsidies into athletics, with nearly 130 athletic departments relying on subsidies for over half of their revenue.
CREDIT: Mark Stehle, AP
“Many universities are demanding that their students pay more to support sports at the same time they are raising tuition, forcing many students to take out bigger loans to pay the bill,” Fry said. He specifically cited the College of William & Mary, where students were charged an athletic fee of $1,500 for the 2014-15 school year.
Fry also spoke out against the exorbitant salaries that are now standard for big-time college football coaches — the Huffington Post study found that between 2006-2012, the median pay for NCAA Division I football coaches rose 93 percent, while the median pay for professors rose only 4 percent. And, despite perception, those salaries aren’t turning directly into revenue for the university.
In many states the highest-paid state employee is the head coach of the state university football or basketball team. University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban made $7.2 million last year, about 50 times more than the average pay of a full-time professor. But at least his team returned some revenue to the university.
That is unusual: A NCAA study last year found that only 20 of the nearly 130 university athletic programs in the top-flight Football Bowl Subdivision enjoyed a positive operating margin. The average loss was $17.6 million. These athletic programs wouldn’t survive in the private economy and only function by “taxing” the rest of the university.
Football programs on all levels have been under the microscope lately, particularly due to concern over injuries. This fall, as numerous deaths were reported on high-school football fields across the country, the football program at Camden Hills Regional High School shut down after four students were injured in one game. There have also been calls for youth football programs to be shut down as more information comes out about the connection between football and chronic brain damage.
But in his editorial, Fry is more concerned about the excessive spending and the corruption surrounding college football than the on-the-field issues. A recent USA Today report found that in 2014, the schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision of the NCAA spent $3.1 million on facility graphics data work and visual accessories work just to enhance the look of their stadiums. This number is up from an average of $500,000 per year from 2007 to 2010. And a Washington Post report from last week revealed that the non-coaching payrolls at the top athletic departments in the country have risen 69 percent in the last decade. Fry writes that the millions being sunk into athletics increases the pressure for success and causes schools to “compromise academic integrity.”
Of course, as these millions are being spent on support staffs and visuals, the players remain unpaid amateurs. Fry doesn’t think that ending amateurism will fix college football, however — he thinks a free market for college athletics would lead to an “Armageddon” and “exacerbate the financial pressure on universities.”
“Not having a football program turns out to be a major strategic advantage for Drexel,” Fry concluded. “Our student athletes in other sports win conference championships; many of our teams are nationally ranked. Our Division I athletic programs create a strong sense of pride on campus. But we focus entirely and exclusively on our mission: delivering a high-quality education for all students. More universities should feel welcome to join us.”