Two weeks ago, The Aggie ran an article (“The UCD Files: Not a Sports School?”) that was deeply disappointing. The columnist poses and answers the question “Given a choice between being good at sports and bad at sports, should we be good at sports?” In doing so, he reduces the controversy surrounding collegiate athletics to nothing. What needs to be addressed are the costs of being a big-time sports school.
The first cost is declining academic standards. Since Chancellor Katehi began pushing for a bigger sports program, the SAT scores and high school GPAs of entering student athletes have declined substantially compared to non-athletes. That report, by UC Davis’s Institutional Analysis Student Research and Information, also notes that the percentage of athletes admitted by exception spiked to 11 percent in 2010 and 15 percent in 2011 (data only extends through 2013). I want my degree to mean something when I graduate and that won’t happen if we have the reputation of University of North Carolina or if the NCAA extends its investigation of academic misconduct to us. This doesn’t just apply to non-athletes; it applies to athletes as well. Our student-athletes are students first, and the primary responsibility of this university is to prepare them for successful careers, not use their names, images and likeness to profit from their athletic achievements.
The second cost is increased sexual assault. When big-time sports are prevalent and “high school phenoms” are “way cooler than us,” it creates a mentality in football and men’s basketball that they can take what they want – even when that means other people. It’s not a coincidence that large NCAA football (i.e., Vanderbilt, Naval Academy, Montana) and basketball (i.e., Oregon) teams are constantly under investigation for sexual assault, that Blue Mountain State was produced or that the NCAA was pressured to issue a handbook on how to handle sexual assault. Less important, but still significant, is that UC Davis provides a unique ability to befriend D1 athletes and see them as your equals. Big-time athletics removes that.
The third cost is the opportunity cost. Big-time athletics requires paying teams to train and travel, and paying coaches large salaries and bonuses for performance. Despite the NCAA (“The Empirical Effects of Collegiate Athletics: An Interim Report”) finding that there is no correlation between spending more on athletics and winning more and that increasing coach salaries has no correlation with winning or increased revenue, according to UC Davis’ EADA reports, ICA’s expenses have continuously climbed since UC Davis moved to D1. Students contribute $18 million annually to ICA’s budget, and the question of whether this allocation is the best use of student fees must be considered.
In short, students should not look at our basketball team’s ESPN games and tout that they want more without carefully considering that those games come at a high cost to our athletes, our students and our school.
Graphic by Jennifer Wu