- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

NCAA top dog Myles Brand spoke yesterday at the National Press Club to unveil a report stressing the need for better fiscal discipline on behalf of athletic departments. According to Brand, only about two dozen athletic departments in the entire country are operating in the black. The majority that aren’t have consistently — and increasingly — been dipping into university subsidies known as “allocation funds.”

This brings up the age-old debate of the role of college sports on campus.

Brand and other university presidents insist athletics play a role in the academic identity of the institution. Sports help build things like teamwork, character, loyalty and accountability, which are traits we want in students and graduates, they argue. They’ve (so far) successfully defended this position against some members of Congress, who have questioned why college sports revenue can’t be taxed.

Whether you’re in the “sports have no place on a college campus” camp or not, the financial numbers are pretty staggering: despite record attendance and television revenue, athletic departments are, with only a few exceptions, losing tens of millions of dollars. And while they are not taking money directly from the English or biology departments, they are dipping into funds the university could conceivably use for purely academic purposes.

In 2003, several NCAA-commissioned reports showed increased spending from athletic departments did not lead to more wins by teams, and wins, in turn, did not lead to more revenue. But universities generally ignored the reports, continuing to spend beyond their means.

So in January 2005, Brand formed a task force to address this issue further and come up with recommendations to keep spending under control. It’s clear from the recommendations that the NCAA doesn’t have a lot of power to tell colleges how to spend their money. Brand admitted as much. Most of the recommendations call for uniformity of financial reporting, so that universities can more easily track where money is going and where it’s coming in. Furthermore, they’ll be able to see how other peer universities are doing financially. But there doesn’t appear to be any teeth to any of the recommendations.

It will be interesting to see if spending by athletic departments is gradually curbed. A university that decides not to spend money to nab that high-profile coach or build that new basketball arena is sure to face the wrath of fans. But hemorrhaging cash on an annual basis is not a sustainable model for success, either.

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