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Thursday, June 17, 2010
Panel: Schools' spending out of control

By Chris Low

The Knight Commission has spoken, and among its many findings is the “revelation” that spending in big-time college athletics is out of control.

The 18-month study of college sports finances revealed that expenditures in big-time college sports grew 38 percent -- nearly twice as much as spending on academics -- from 2005 to 2008. Moreover, the 10 public institutions that spent the most on college sports are on pace to exceed $250 million annually in athletics expenses, on average, in 2020.

I think we’d all agree, at least on the surface, that these numbers are outrageous.

There has to be a ceiling at some point, doesn’t there? Especially when entire academic curriculum are being cut, faculty are being laid off and academic budgets are being slashed in half in this current economic climate.

But then you look around at the pressure to win, particularly in the SEC, and it’s no wonder that six of the 12 coaches in the league are making nearly $3 million or more per year. I honestly don’t see coaching salaries going down. The market will determine what coaches make. And if you win national championships and compete for national championships on a regular basis, you’re going to get paid.

See Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.

Here’s the other thing: When more than 90,000 people are showing up for Alabama’s spring football game, that’s a pretty good indicator that winning supersedes any concerns that might exist about exorbitant spending.

As for the Knight Commission’s recommendation to shorten the football season and not extend the season into the January semester, I think there’s merit to that. At least, among those people not counting the money.

I still love how we can go to 12 games during the regular season -- which has became nothing more than an extra pay day for most schools in that they simply buy another home game -- and yet presidents, chancellors and others argue that going to a playoff in college football would make the season too long.

The last time I checked, the most recent BCS National Championship Game between Alabama and Texas was played on Jan. 7. The two teams went more than a month without playing a football game before playing the most important game of the season.

I understand schools don’t want to bump up against final exams in December. But play one fewer game during the regular season and move everything up.

The Knight Commission also recommends that teams be allowed to compete in postseason championships only if they achieve an Academic Progress Rate (APR) that predicts at least a 50 percent graduation rate of athletes under the NCAA’s graduation measure. Sounds reasonable enough.

My only question: Does that entice athletes (and are they enticed by others) to major in eligibility even more than they already are at some schools?

Finally, there’s an arms race raging among all the big-time schools. If you don’t think so, take a tour of the campuses at Texas, Florida, Alabama and Ohio State.

Everybody’s got to have an indoor practice facility, new locker rooms, new weight rooms, new lounges for recruits. The competition for the top recruits is fiercer than it’s ever been. And trust me, they’re keeping count.

Where does it all end?

It’s hard to say. But one thing that’s an iron-clad lock is that it quit being an extracurricular activity a long time ago.