COLLEGE SPORTS SPENDING
Overall, spending on athletics appears to have created a so-called “arms race”
between competing athletic programs and institutions.
—Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics (2010)
It is now accepted wisdom that college sports programs are constantly trying to one-up each other and, since they are all competing for the same prize, this can only happen in a wasteful way. As the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics suggests, all spend more, but nobody can gain more. However, sports business analytics reveal that the “arms race” claim completely misses the mark on what actually goes on with college sports spending. So here we are again: a claim that has no basis in fact but serves the best interests of obvious participants in the process—the type of classic myth that really needs busting.
People may differ on just what makes this “arms race” in college sports spending happen. At the more generalist end of the spectrum is some sort of “keeping up with the Joneses” idea for conference members; Florida did it, so Georgia must as well. The University of Michigan reluctantly has to put luxury boxes in its Big House (Michigan Stadium) so that it can generate a modern revenue stream—or risk being left in the dust. At the specific, academic end of the spectrum (covered in detail below) are a set of circumstances whereby all acting in their own interest leads to collective ruin. In between is just some vague reference to the observation that spending in college sports is growing much faster than any other area of spending on campus.
While its description varies, few who spout the myth differ on its consequences. Some have a vague notion that the world would be better off with