Dagobert Brito, Rice's Peterkin Professor of Political Economy thinks not. His analysis of the problem is appropriately economic and not polemic.
Rice University can field completive competitive teams in many sports without compromising academic standards. Football is an exception. The number of players in the nation that are academically comparable with the Rice student body is so small, and there is so much competition for these players, that it is not feasible to recruit a sufficient number of players with academic credentials comparable to the Rice student body.
Other elite schools that do play Division I-A football without adverse consequences can do so, not because their football teams are academically better than Rice's team, but because the schools are larger. Football players are 6.5 percent of the male undergraduates at Rice. They are only 3 percent of the male undergraduates at Duke and Stanford universities.
Among the 500 top high school football players in the class of 2004 in the United States, only five listed SAT scores of 1300 or above. Rice was able to recruit two of them. The average SAT score for the Rice football team is just under 1100, and the national average for NCAA Division I-A football teams is below 900. The Rice football team has good scores relative to the rest of the country, but the average SAT scores of the Rice student body is almost 1400.
Brito also happens to be a Rice alum, and is not opposed to sports per se. He simply believes that Rice football has failed to serve a useful function for the school, and given the size of the student body, is unlikely to do so. As for me, I share the doubt that Rice gains much by competing with Tulsa and Louisiana Tech, and the Owls have demonstrated over several decades that they fail in football competition with the major Texas programs.
Brito's commentary comes on the heels of a McKinsey report which focuses on athletics at Rice. More discussion of the issue can be found here.