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College Athletics

History Of Athletics In U.s. Colleges And Universities, Academic Support Systems For AthletesTHE ROLE AND SCOPE OF INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETICS IN U.S. COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES

Bradley James Bates

John R. Thelin Jason R. Edwards

Robert E. Stammer Jr.

Bradley James Bates

Bradley James Bates

Rachel M. Madsen

Thomas Paskus

Suzanne E. Estler


As entities of a university, athletic departments are visible representatives of higher education and should represent the same ideals that are facilitated throughout an institution. Athletic scandals negatively impact institutional reputations because a conflict in academic and athletic curricular aims becomes apparent. Athletic curricula should be educational in nature and, as such, should facilitate similar values to academic curricula within a diverse context. In this way, the aims of athletic curricula are compatible with academic aims. The integration of athletics and academics should, therefore, create an environment conducive to student-athlete growth.

The American educator and philosopher John Dewey defined growth as the "constant expansion of horizons and consequent formation of new purposes and new responses" (Dewey, p. 175). When values in one environment contradict those in another, growth is limited by confusion and inconsistency. Current trends in intercollegiate athletics often create conflicting curricular aims that deviate from the educational nature of intercollegiate athletics and the educational mission of universities. The infusion of commercialism, rising expenses, increasing salaries for coaches and administrators, and admissions exceptions and poor academic performance of student athletes are indicative of a shift from athletics as a diverse educational entity toward a professional model. Without being rooted in the educational mission of the university, intercollegiate athletics is difficult to justify.

Given the assumption that athletics can only be justified in higher education if inherently educational, the primary role of the athletic curriculum is to maximize the development of people–students become the focus of development, with coaches being the educators and designers of the athletic curriculum. As with academic programs, athletics has curricula, text, and pedagogy, and aims for student-athlete growth. A distinguishing difference, however, between the academic and athletic curricula is measures of student development. Whereas the academic curriculum has various levels of achievement and reward, typically illustrated by grades and degrees, athletics offers a very narrow definition of achievement: winning. Thus, athletic excellence is necessary to maximize the development of students. Athletics provides one of the few enterprises in academia where a group of individuals can strive together through adversity toward a shared vision while facing daily public scrutiny and accountability. If the vision is never achieved, development is limited. Without success, the athletic curriculum does not provide a significant reward, which is critical in maximizing the development of students.

The term intercollegiate athletics is defined as athletic contests between colleges. Colleges grant academic degrees upon completion of designed curricula. As college students, student athletes must attend classes; they must work to complete specific requirements in order to earn a degree; and they must have minimal academic success as determined and sanctioned by the NCAA if they are to continue participating in athletics. As their admission to college is based, at least in part, on academic credentials, athletes must be students. Thus, academic departments are directly involved in the application of athletics within a university: Student athletes must take academic courses. Subsequently, academic curricula influence student athletes. When academic and athletic departments have conflicting aims, problems arise that affect the entire institution. If the values facilitated by academic and athletic curricula were consistent, problems would be diminished.

American society values the elitism of academics and athletics in a manner that provokes conflict for participants in both domains. In essence, athletic elitism is a metaphor for academic elitism: Athletic teams aspire to be national champions, while their affiliate academic institutions seek national rankings. However, the means by which coaches and faculty achieve national reputations can create conflict for student athletes attempting to exist in both environments. Although both aspire to excel, the different measures of excellence for academics and athletics necessitates compromise by those who are placed in both settings.

Ncaa Championships

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) administers national championship contests annually. There are national collegiate championships in gymnastics, volleyball, water polo, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, wrestling (men), fencing, rifle, skiing (men and women), gymnastics, ice hockey, rowing, water polo, and outdoor track and field and volleyball (women), among others. Division I championships include baseball, basketball, cross country, I-AA football, golf, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, swimming and diving, and tennis (men). Women compete for national championships in basketball, cross country, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, and indoor track and field. In addition to those sports in which the NCAA sponsors championships, NCAA sports also include archery, badminton, bowling, squash, synchronized swimming, and team handball. In order to participate, member institutions and their students must adhere to eligibility rules as established by the NCAA.

The Economics of Education

Although universities are educational organizations, they must be economically healthy in order to exist. Each department on a campus contributes to the profit or deficit of the university. Departments that operate with a deficit survive only because they are valued programs that the university is willing to subsidize. As a noneducational, extracurricular activity, it is difficult to justify underwriting an athletic department operating at a deficit. When viewed as a unique curricular experience for students, however, it becomes easier to justify the expense.

To remain economically healthy, institutions must continually reevaluate the worth of departments operating at a deficit. The result is an institutional hierarchy of financial worth that creates conflict between departments considered either curricular or extracurricular. For example, a French department was eliminated at a western U.S. university. Faculty within the department suggested that the athletic department, which also operated at a deficit, should be eliminated instead of the French department. They argued that French has an educational mission, and is therefore of greater value to the university than athletics. The business of education thus creates a context of departmental worth.

When viewed exclusively as an entertainment business, it is difficult to justify the economics of an athletic department within higher education. A former executive director of the NCAA has acknowledged that few athletic departments generate revenue, and most athletic departments are economic burdens on their institution. Universities are becoming more reluctant to economically support athletic departments because athletics are not financially productive businesses. Thus, the business of athletics can affect a university's business of educating–athletic departments operate at substantial deficits icits while being treated as extracurricular, noneducational programs. It is only when athletics are viewed as diverse educational experiences for students that athletics can be rationalized as a curriculum worthy of subsidy.

In a survey involving the NCAA's 298 Division I member institutions, Clarence Crawford examined the revenues and expenses of the NCAA and affiliate universities. Existing data from the NCAA were used for the study. Crawford found that "the NCAA had revenues of $152.5 million and expenses of $151.3 million for the year ending August 31, 1991. With an NCAA membership of over 800 four-year colleges and universities, this study utilized 298. Within these 298 schools exist 106 Division IA member schools–forty percent of which reported budget deficits" (Crawford, p. 3).

During the 1980s, athletic department expenses grew at a rate three times greater than inflation: a rate far surpassing revenues. A significant influence on these expenses was escalating tuition costs. "Between 1981–82 and 1986–87, tuitions rose between 20 and 37 percent in different types of higher education institutions" (Sherman, Tikoff, and Masten, p.16). Thus, academic tuition revenues adversely affect athletic department expenses.

To offset deficits, many athletic departments are creatively recruiting corporate sponsors. These arrangements have raised questions regarding regulation, tax exposure, and the commercialism of intercollegiate athletics. In a study conducted by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, concern was expressed with respect to the potential "corrupting influence" (Lederman 1993, p. A27) of corporate relations with athletic departments. As athletic departments attempt to balance budgets, television networks and corporate sponsors are acquiring greater influence over athletic decisions. For example, men's basketball contests are played before televised audiences each weeknight. Was the decision to play during school nights made in the interest of economics or student athletes? It appears that the economics of sports are establishing a context for prostituting higher education and ultimately exploiting student athletes.

Member institutions reported in 1992 that "salaries and wages were the largest single expense for Division IA schools, accounting for 23 percent of operating expenses" (Crawford, p. 5). Grants-in-aid accounted for 17 percent of department expenses; however, this figure changes significantly at private institutions. The economic emphasis on revenue-producing sports is reflected in the distribution of salaries among the most influential people in athletic departments. In 1992 the average base salary for the revenue-producing head coaches was $77,511 for football and $71,151 for men's basketball. Women's basketball head coaches were the highest paid coaches in non-revenue-producing sports. The average base salary for a women's head basketball coach was $40,482. These differences are exacerbated by additional income sources. Football and men's basketball head coaches averaged $25,568 and $20,162, respectively, from additional school benefits, while women's basketball head coaches averaged $4,943 in additional school benefits. Men's basketball head coaches averaged $39,338 and football head coaches averaged $32,835 from outside income, whereas women's basketball head coaches averaged $6,651. The total compensation averages for coaches were: football head coaches, $120,258; men's basketball head coaches, $114,993; and women's basketball head coaches, $46,005. Although these figures are substantial, coaches at prestigious programs are compensated with significantly greater salaries and benefits. During the 2000–2001 academic year, three football coaches received more than one million dollars in total compensation, and during the 2001–2002 academic year twenty-two football coaches will receive more than one million dollars for coaching at the Division IA level. The economic significance of revenue-producing sports begins with the athletic faculty.

Base salaries of academic faculty are comparable to athletic coaches. In 1993 the average salary for full professors at public and private doctoral institutions was $66,250, while the average salary for full professors at private institutions was $80,280. These figures are substantial, and compare to athletic faculty salaries. Similarly, faculty in prestigious programs are compensated with significantly greater salaries and benefits–particularly at institutions with medical schools. The economic significance of the elite athletic programs parallels elite academic departments.

There appears to be a cyclical perpetuation of status, reputation, and financial resources in athletics that is analogous to academia. The most reputable athletic programs have the greatest resources and attract the most athletically talented student athletes. For example, the difference in annual operating budget expenditures between the highest and lowest member schools in a Division IA conference was more than $16 million. It is obvious which athletic department had the more successful teams. Similarly, "the most prestigious institutions attract the best-prepared students from the most affluent and highly educated families, spend the most on their educational programs, pay their faculties the highest salaries, and charge the highest tuition and fees" (Astin, p. 11). The universities with the greatest reputations and resources annually garner the highest rankings, just as the same football and basketball programs are traditionally rated by pollsters in the top twenty. Resources foster success and success breeds resources.


ASTIN, ALEXANDER. 1985. Achieving Educational Excellence: A Critical Assessment of Priorities and Practices in Higher Education. San Francisco:Jossey-Bass.

CRAWFORD, CLARENCE C. 1992. Intercollegiate Athletics: Revenues and Expenses, Gender and Minority Profiles, and Compensation in Athletic Departments. Hearings before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Competitiveness of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 345 639).

DEWEY, JOHN. 1916. Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan.

GERDY, JOHN R. 1994. "How Televised Sports Can Further the Goals of Higher Education." Chronicle of Higher Education 12 (7):A52.

LEDERMAN, DAVID. 1987. "Southern Methodist U. Revamps Governance. Chronicle of Higher Education 33:31–32.

LEDERMAN, DAVID. 1993. "Draft Report by Business Officers' Group Says Colleges Must Rein in Sports Budgets." Chronicle of Higher Education 39 (46):A27–A28.

MAGNER, DENISE K. 1993. "AAUP Survey Finds Faculty Salaries Rose 2.5% in 1992–93." Chronicle of Higher Education 39 (32):A19, A22–A26.

NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION. 2000. 2000–2001 NCAA Division I Manual. Indianapolis, IN: National Collegiate Athletic Association.

SHERMAN, DANIEL; TIKOFF, VALENTINA K.; and MASTEN, CHARLES. 1991. Issues in Public Higher Education. Background Papers Prepared for the Study of the Escalating Costs of Higher Education. Washington, DC: Office of Policy and Planning (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 354 800).

SHULMAN, JAMES L., and BOWEN, WILLIAM G. 2001. The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

SPERBER, MURRAY. 1990. "Despite the Mythology, Most Colleges Lose Money on Big-Time Sports." Chronicle of Higher Education 37: B1, B3.

ZIMBALIST, ANDREW. 1999. Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


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Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comEducation Encyclopedia: Classroom Management - Creating a Learning Environment to Association for Science Education (ASE)