College Sports Drop the Ball

Photos by Rachel Robertson

Photos by Rachel Robertson

College sports are a danger to students of higher education in almost every way. Collegiate athletic programs are draining secondary institutions of important funding and promote a variety of unhealthy behaviors and precedents.

This statement will undoubtedly upset a portion of those who read it, particularly those who participate in college athletics. However, if those individuals choose to read on, they may find this assertion to be true.

This opinion piece is not a smear of athletics on the whole but an attempt to point out a dangerous path that this nation and our very institution traverses. There are clear benefits to participating in sporting events, the most obvious of which is the entertainment aspect.

Sports are fun to watch and play. Moreover, team sports promote camaraderie while all sports promote a healthy lifestyle. There is no doubt that these are important contributions athleticism provides our society.

With that said, there are many flawed ideologies surrounding institutional athleticism. Firstly, it promotes a false sense of self. Research conducted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has shown that 53 percent of male college athletes identify as both a student and an athlete (compared to 62 percent of females), but approximately 27 percent of male athletes (and 13 percent of females) are more likely to identify as an athlete than they are a student.

This might not appear to be problematic on the surface, but it is when considering the likeliness of college athletes to succeed in professional endeavors. If these young people are unlikely to identify as students/academics, they are less likely to pursue further education or employment in important fields.

Therefore, student athletes are more likely to believe they have a potential future in professional athletics. The odds are against them, however, as shown by a separate NCAA study conducted in 2013-14 that outlined the odds of high school varsity athletes making it to the pros.

In the academic year in which this study was conducted, 1,122,024 high school students were playing varsity football. Out of these students, only 27,467 will be on the roster of a division 1 school. Of those students, only 1,696 are likely to end up on the roster of a professional team.

In other words, a high school player has a 1 in 604 chance of making a career out of football. The odds are far worse for basketball players who have a 1 in 1,860 chance of playing professionally.

This is not the only consequence of college sports. While student-athletes make up only 3.3 percent of the collegiate population, they represent 19 percent of sexual assault perpetrators and 35 percent of domestic violence perpetrators, according to the Benedict-Crosset study of 1993.

Despite the antiquity of this study, the results have been acknowledged throughout the years as other studies have corroborated the findings. Studies have proven that there is a clear, systemic issue that promotes violence and sexual assault to college athletes.

While these are devastating consequences of a broken system, they are not the death of higher education—funding is. College athletic departments are economically unsustainable and irresponsible.

Before diving into the intricacies of athletic spending within college campuses, first recognize that the cost of higher education has skyrocketed over the years. In fact, the cost of a college education in an institution comparable to Westminster College, has increased 1,120 percent since 1978. This increase in cost has been detrimental to young people in this nation attempting to earn a degree.

For this reason, I have decided to first address athletic scholarships. In the 2013-14 academic year, $3.3 billion in scholarship money was awarded specifically to student athletes, according to the NCAA. During this time, when Westminster was in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), the average athletic scholarship received by a male student was $2,712 and the average scholarship aid for a female student was $3,944.

This was lower than the national average for NAIA schools. However, now that the college has moved into the NCAA division 2, one might expect to see those numbers increase in an attempt to get closer to the national averages of $5,548 in scholarships per male student and $6,814 per female student, if funding and donations permit.

This is not an attack on the scholarship money these students receive. This aid is desperately needed. Any kind of scholarship aid should be respected as both a necessity and a generosity.

The National College Players Association found that 86 percent of college athletes live below the poverty line, and those who received “fully-funded” scholarships in the 2009-10 academic year actually saw a $3,222 funding shortfall on average. In other words, even attempts at fully funding athletes’ educations have fallen short.

Instead of fully supporting the allocation of these scholarships, it is imperative they be questioned. According to the United States Census Bureau, 51.2 percent of college students living off campus were living below the poverty line in 2013.

On-campus students were not accounted for, but it is entirely likely that if they were, the percent of students living below the poverty line would increase. This information shows that there are many students living below the poverty line, and while student athletes may tend to come from disadvantaged homes, more disproportionately they are not the only students struggling to live and to afford their educations.

Moreover, when one accounts for Title IX issues, it becomes clear that collegiate athletics have been given an excessive amount of attention and funding.

According to the NCAA, the number of females participating in collegiate athletics increased 6 percent from 2003 to 2014. This shows that the attention given to the athletic disparity between men and women participating in collegiate sports is paying off.

However, according to the American Society for Engineering Education, the number of female engineering students (in primarily NCAA schools) decreased by 7 percent over this same period. Too often Title IX is misinterpreted as a program that only accounts for collegiate sports.

However, since it applies to every collegiate department, it should be implemented with the same vigor. In other words, imagine if the scholarship money applied to student athletes was instead dedicated to engineering students. This could potentially close the gap that exists between men and women in fields such as engineering (or other STEM programs) and ultimately play to the greater benefit of our society.

Leaving behind scholarships, there is a far greater fiscal issue that is only enflamed by the continual investment in college sports. Simply put, expenditures are exceeding revenues across the board.

The majority of division 1 schools lose money on their athletic programs and every single division 2 and division 3 school in the country loses money on their athletic programs, according to a 2013 NCAA study.

This can be seen locally at practically every institution in the state of Utah. The real kicker, though, is how these deficits are made up.

The Office of the Utah State Auditor found that all but one of Utah’s public colleges and universities athletic departments are subsidized by student fees at a rate of over 50 percent of the total revenues. This means that mandatory student fees account for over half of the income for all of the athletic departments.

Students are paying large sums of money for college sports teams to exist, and often times these fees are over $1,000 a student. These fees are imposed regardless of whether the student participates in college sports or even cares to watch them.

Utah is not the only state with this issue, but Utah Valley University is the second worst school in the nation when it comes to students subsidizing athletics, with student fees accounting for 89 percent of the entire athletic department revenues.

This issue is widespread and causes great devastation. The Chronicle of Higher Education found that over the last five years, public universities have pumped more than $10.3 billion in mandatory student fees into sports programs.

Colleges and universities have had to take this approach in order to keep athletic programs alive. College teams aren’t garnering the attention they need to survive because ticket sales and donations just aren’t coming through.

To rectify this issue, schools are making foolhardy decisions to try and move to a higher division. Over the last 20 years, 32 schools have moved into the NCAA division 1, and the amount moving into division 2 is growing, as well.

This has not fixed the problem. In 2013, the Georgia State Panthers made this move and have seen poor returns. The school has had to find funding in mandatory student fees that have grown to constitute 71 percent of its athletic revenue while ticket sales constitute a measly 3 percent.

The $17.6 million Georgia State annually takes from its students is bleeding the already struggling student population, 60 percent of who qualify for Federal Pell Grants.

Clearly, the state of college athletic programs is dire and the issues are widespread. They’ve proven to be harmful to student athletes as well as to students who have nothing to do with collegiate sports.

What does all of this mean for Westminster? Not much, yet. Luckily for us, Westminster College does not have student fees designed to assist our athletic programs (unless they are somehow built into the cost of tuition, which is highly unlikely).

Therefore, students do not bear the brunt of our athletic costs and it is likely our programs aren’t costing us too much.

With that said, the move to division 2 is unlikely to actually make our athletic endeavors more affordable, and it is highly likely that the college will never have an athletic department that becomes profitable or sees revenues exceed expenditures.

The first published version of this article excluded the key and crucial conclusion. The Forum apologizes for any misleading problems. This is the full updated version (Feb.5 10:15 a.m.)