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“If the objective of spending public money is to induce economic growth, or increase per-capita income, or raise employment, building a stadium is not a good idea,” said Jonathan Willner, a professor of economics at Oklahoma City University who specializes in the business of sports. “It just doesn’t pay off nearly as well as much less sexier things like, how good is the school system? How good is the highway system? How good is the airport? Those are things that actually show up in the studies.”

Still, local politicians keep falling all over themselves to spend millions of our dollars to replace stadiums that are still perfectly useful (such as the Georgia Dome) or have truly have outlived their usefulness (we’re looking at you, decrepit Candlestick Park, soon-to-be-former home of the 49ers).

Why?

“The infrastructure is crumbling, schools are shutting down and taxes are going up, but there’s still this culture and mystique about sports,” Eckstein said. “It’s got a grip on us. People are able to manipulate that to make us do things, some crazy things.”

There are pockets of hope. In Minnesota, resistance to building a new stadium for the Vikings has been fierce _ so much so that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell popped in the other day to deliver a not-so-subtle message. He surely let it be known that he’s got Los Angeles on speed dial, ready to send them another team if the Land of a Thousand Lakes won’t agree to pay for more than half of a $1 billion stadium that owner Zygi Wilf (estimated net worth: $1.3 billion) just has to have.

Here’s how Minnesotans should respond: Hey, Zygi, you come up with the bulk of the money. After all, you’re going to be the prime beneficiary of a new stadium, which will surely send the value of your franchise _ along with your net worth _ soaring even higher. If you see things differently, take a hike.

While plenty of loyal fans would undoubtedly be heartsick over losing their beloved Vikings, they’ll survive. Just ask the city that now has its eye on your team. Los Angeles lost not one but two NFL franchises (the Rams AND the Raiders) in one swoop during the 1990s. Did L.A. fall apart? Hardly. Same for Seattle, which hasn’t missed a beat since its NBA team, the Sonics, bolted to Oklahoma City because they didn’t get a new arena.

This is the great ruse that owners, politicians and a few very influential people in most of our major metropolises have been able to pull off. They’ve persuaded us that we’ll be less of a city, and therefore not quite as important as people, if we don’t have a big league team in our midst. Over the last 20 years, the tab for building and renovating facilities for the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA stands at roughly $27 billion, much of it our money.

Well, it’s time for the gravy train to stop.

If our favorite team wants to leave because we won’t hand over the keys to the city vault, good riddance.

Most of the games are on TV anyway.

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Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963