Magazine article University Business

Athletics Dollars and Values: How Transparent Is Transparency?

Magazine article University Business

Athletics Dollars and Values: How Transparent Is Transparency?

Article excerpt

WITH A $71,097 DIFFERENCE IN median spending in favor of athletics over academics in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) institutions in 2008, it's hard not to be a bit curious about where the money's going. It seems, then, that the recommendation by the recent Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics report, "Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values, and the Future of College Sports," in favor of greater transparency in athletic spending comes at a good time.

"Financial data ought to be transparent and readily available to students, parents, trustees, and taxpayers who have a stake," said William E. Kirwan, co-chairman of the Commission and chancellor of the University System of Maryland, at a press conference held at the release of the report. NCAA Interim President Jim Isch, in a prepared statement, agreed, saying that "the NCAA's Dashboard Indicators provide presidents and chancellors a standardized look at their respective financials as compared to their peers."

A good start, but is it enough? There's only so much that a set of numbers can explain, and true transparency requires much deeper analysis than a quick survey can provide.

Morgan Burke, the athletic director at Purdue University (Ind.), gives insight into this "apples-to-apples" dilemma. A capital project, he explains, such as the current stadium construction Purdue is undertaking, will appear on the report as an operating expense. But, he asks, in what normal business is a capital project like this considered an operating cost? Money set aside to pay for this kind of endeavor should fall under a different category, he argues. "Mixing your ongoing recurring operating expenses with anything you do to update facilities creates a year-to-year distortion." That's why a quick glance at the numbers is not enough, Burke believes.

The report also calls for 8 to 10 fewer scholarships at FBS schools from the current 85. Burke is concerned that a reduction in scholarships would mean a reduction in opportunities for student athletes. In response to the common accusation that athletic scholarship amounts increase at an unreasonable rate, he notes that scholarship awards grow in relation to the increase in tuition--so his hands are tied when it comes to allocating the monetary amount attached to athletic scholarships. …

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