Doug Robinson: There's a price to pay for playing in the big-time

Published: Tuesday, June 28 2011 6:00 p.m. MDT

It's not just the Utes. It's all of college football. Division I universities have lost their way in the rush to cash in on football and win national attention. These days, big universities have become football corporations with a school attached, not vice versa.

With the increased emphasis on athletics, more schools are subsidizing their programs with student fees and government allocations. In 2010, USA Today reported that more than half of the athletic departments at public schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision were subsidized the previous year by at least 26 percent the previous year, up from 20 percent in 2005. Some students pay as much as $1,000 a year to cover athletics.

According to research by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, NCAA data shows that the median subsidies to balance athletic budgets rose 25 percent from 2008, to more than $10 million in 2009. Football is considered a cash cow and yet nearly 43 percent of the NCAA's 120-team Football Bowl Subdivision schools did not cover their own expenses and reported operating losses, with a median loss of $2.7 million.

How misguided has it gotten? Between 2005 and 2008, the Journal-Constitution reported that athletic spending among those 120 universities that play football grew at a rate of 38 percent, while academic spending grew only 21 percent.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which consists of university presidents, trustees and former college athletes, recommended that collegiate athletics be scaled back, including a reduction in scholarships for football.

It might be time to re-evaluate the purpose of universities and their athletic programs. Meanwhile, the University of Utah — like most other Division I schools — is eagerly pursing a growing, full-scale football business.

Email: drob@desnews.com

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