Billions of dollars are feeding a further escalation of the already out-of-control college athletics arms race.
Two facts stand out in The Star's recent series on the issue.
First, when money flows into an athletic department, most of it does not get spent on educating young men and women.
The largest sums are lavished on highly paid coaches and assistants, used to make expensive upgrades to stadiums and arenas, or doled out for travel and other expenses. Sometimes the costs are obscene: University of Kansas athletic officials went hat in hand to boosters for $9 million to pay off not one but two head football coaches forced to leave Kansas in recent years.
As for the athletes, yes, some will get help with paying tuition, room and board. MU officials boast of $7.6 million in athletic aid per year. But that's far less than the $12.4 million worth of annual salaries and perks for MU coaches and a small sliver of the school's $64 million athletic budget.
Second, the money thrown at trying to win another game or two on the field won't be spent to improve academics.
Athletic officials looking for more funds to build ever-newer facilities compete with academic administrators desperate to slow down tuition increases and to underwrite more scholarships for needy students. There are only so many alums out there with deep pockets.
This battle for the proper balance between spending on sports and academics helps explain why it is so discouraging to see the University of Missouri System slash $35 million from its core mission of education even while donors are exhorted to give until it hurts for a $200 million campaign to improve MU's athletics program.
As Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State officials will gladly point out, all have had fundraising campaigns to help hire better professors, award more scholarships and build new educational facilities. Yet those campaigns are more necessary than ever because legislators in Kansas and Missouri have abandoned their duties to adequately fund higher ed.
Promoters of big-time college sports often hype the great publicity that athletics supposedly creates for schools. Two words of warning: Penn State. And a few more: drug scandals, cheating scandals, betting scandals. In reality, there's scant evidence that a well-financed athletic program creates a top-notch university.
In a free-market world, of course, the fundraising for athletics will continue unabated. Many officials will resist paying players something beyond a scholarship, even while Kansas basketball coach Bill Self rakes in more than $4.4 million a year.
College alums will spend on the priorities they think are important. Sometimes it will be a better engineering department. But too often it will be something far less consequential, such as a new weight room to produce bigger athletes to entertain us.
Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.