NCAA President Myles Brand has contributed a post to an NCAA sponsored blog, Double-A Zone. In his first post, Brand addresses the issue of increasing costs at NCAA Division I institutions. According to Brand
…there is a financial problem with the funding for college sports, but it is not what the critics allege – too much money. The problem is that there is not enough money!
Brand contends that operating costs at Division I-A schools are growing faster than revenues because of the eternal quest for on-field success. Economists call this the “arms race” effect in college athletic costs. Brand argues that the increased spending — primarily on lavish athletic facilities and higher salaries for coaches — can be justified by the non-pecuniary benefits generated by the athletic department. In particular, intercollegiate athletics imparts important “life skills” on participants that cannot be taught in the classroom and also increases the identification of the student body with the institution, leading to improved student retention and graduation rates.
I find Brand’s argument unconvincing. The link between the primary cost driver — the quest for on-field success — and the non-pecuniary benefits is unclear. Is it only successful athletic programs that impart important “life skills” on student-athletes? Is it only winning athletic teams that increase student’s identification with the institution? I don’t know. But absent such links, Brand’s argument boils down to “someone stop me before I hand out another ten year contract extension” and the mentors in the athletic department should be handing out those important “life skills” on the same field where the co-eds play ultimate frisbee, not in a 80 million dollar state-of-the-art practice facility.