WHAT OTHERS SAY: Money for sports? No problem. Money for higher ed? Problem

Thursday, July 5, 2012 | 3:42 p.m. CDT; updated 8:04 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 5, 2012

Five days after Gov. Jay Nixon trimmed $9 million from Missouri's higher education budget last month — bringing the amount cut from the higher education budget to $120 million in the past three years — some sports fans gave $30 million to MU.

Of course, it was all for inter-collegiate football at the university's Columbia campus. The $30 million from the Kansas City Sports Trust will cover not quite 25 percent of the $102 million that the MU athletics department will spend on the first phase of a $200 million master plan to enhance its athletic facilities.

The other $72 million for phase one will come from premium seating (some of which is disgustingly tax-deductible) at the university's Memorial Stadium, which will be enlarged, gussied-up and clad in a red-brick facade, dull pre-Depression concrete being so Big Eight-ish. Now that Mizzou is part of the Southeastern Conference, it must demonstrate that its priorities are sufficiently out of whack.

That should be no problem.

Even as the state is choking off its academic resources, even as the curators are raising tuition, even as students and their families are going deeper in hock to pursue a sheepskin, Mizzou's focus is on pigskin.

"This is indeed a historic day for the university," MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said last Tuesday in a press release when the $30 million gift was announced. "What a poignant and symbolic showing of the support we have as we move into the Southeastern Conference. I've said many times that athletics is the front porch of the institution and that a strong program benefits Mizzou immeasurably."

"Poignant?" Not really, but we'll buy "immeasurably." The reform-minded Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has noted that despite claims to the contrary, donor support of athletics does little to increase support for other programs. Spending on sports creates more spending on sports.

The same day that Mizzou announced its big plans, the college presidents who oversee the NCAA's postseason football games announced that a four-team playoff would be used to determine the national championship beginning in 2014. In addition to cooling the fevered brows of those who regard the current bowl system as the greatest atrocity since Pol Pot ruled Cambodia, the playoffs are expected to generate an extra $500 million to $700 million a year in television revenue.

The Knight Commission has suggested that some of that revenue be spent on academics. We'd suggest paying the athletes instead, but then we'd be accused of undermining amateurism.

Also at last week's university board of curators meeting, it was announced that a $36 million sports and recreation center would be built at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Of 12,000 students on campus, about two-thirds of the 1,500 who voted in a March referendum decided to dun everyone $19.25 per credit hour to pay for the facility, although, presumably, many voters will have graduated or otherwise moved on before the facility is built.

Future students (or their parents) taking 12 hours a semester or more will pay an extra $231 per semester for a cool place to work out, assuming they can afford the tuition.

Sports has become the tail that wags the dog. America may be 12th among 36 industrialized nations in the number of college degrees awarded, but we're No. 1 in football and work-out facilities.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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