Intercollegiate athletics is a substantial enterprise. The National Collegiate Athletic Association's 2001-2002 budget lists revenues of $345,815,000 and expenses of $228,337,000 in Division I, $14,653,000 in Division II and $10,663,900 in Division III. The NCAA itself notes that its television contract is more lucrative than that of every professional sports league in North America except for the National Football League, and even the merchandising associated with NCAA sports is itself an extensive commercial activity. Much of this revenue surely comes from enthusiasm for college athletics by people who have little or no association with the teams that happen to be playing on any given day.
A moment's reflection reveals that the prominence of intercollegiate athletics in higher education is a puzzle. Universities exist the world over, as does rabid enthusiasm for professional sports, and yet only in the United States do universities send out athletic teams to gladiate on behalf of students, faculty, alumni, and fans generally. 1 Noll (1999, 25) asserts that foreigners view big-time intercollegiate athletics in the United States as a “pagan ritual.” In a famous remark, the one-time president of the University of Chicago, Robert Hutchins, is said to have sarcastically dismissed the illogic of college sports: “A college racing stable makes as much sense as college football. The jockey could carry the college colors; the students could cheer; the alumni could bet; and the horse wouldn't have to pass a history test.”