As Duke uses its winning athletics teams support the University’s broader mission, some are questioning the role that athletics play in institutes of higher education.
After completing its 18-month study of college athletics finances, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics released its report recommending changes to college athletics. With spending on college sports rising at a rate nearly twice as much as spending on academics since 2005, the June 17 report, “Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values, and the Future of College Sports,” advises calls for financial reform. The Commission advises that these reforms be guided by the principles of making financial reports public and transparent, rewarding prioritizing academics and treating athletes as students rather than professionals.
The Knight Commission is a reform-minded committee on college athletics, headed by William Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland, and R. Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University. It also has several ties to the University—Janet Hill, a member of the Board of Trustees, and Judy Woodruff, Women’s College ’68, are both members of the Commission. Its suggestions are largely valid and should be strongly considered by the NCAA.
Only seven institutions have had profitable athletics programs in each of the last five years. Surely, evaluating the merit of college athletics purely on the basis of profits would be poor cost-benefit analysis. Programs that require subsidies, such as Duke’s, add value that is not captured by financial reports. However, the ever-growing reliance of major athletics programs on university subsidies suggests that spending on athletics sometimes substitutes academic funding.
In its study, the Commission surveyed college presidents and found that escalating coaching salaries are the single biggest factor in the unsustainable growth of athletics budgets. Duke is no stranger to expensive coaching staffs. Federal tax filings show that men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s salary has nearly tripled in four seasons. The latest documents place Krzyzewski’s at $4.19 million, which made him the highest-paid college basketball coach in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. Football head coach David Cutcliffe’s salary is listed at $1.54 million, three times as much as his predecessor received.
Spending on coaches seems to be working for Duke, but coaching salaries should not be a university’s financial priority. If all coaching salaries were public information along with athletics financial reports, the pressure to pay outrageous contracts might be eased. Universities, aware of the backlash that overpaying coaches would generate, might be more prudent in their contractual negotiations. Transparency would allow the market to correct itself so that coaches’ salaries would more accurately reflect their true worth to universities.
The Knight Commission also presents forward-thinking ideas concerning the distribution of the NCAA’s revenues to Universities. Its suggestion that schools whose athletes achieve in the classroom should be financially rewarded is wise. These measures would likely benefit Duke; statistics released last November showed Duke with a 97 percent graduation rate.
The Knight Commission correctly recognizes the weaknesses of the current college athletics system. The University should be a vocal advocate of the measures it puts forth.
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