Why should Notre Dame's football coach make more than tenured professors?
Coaches' salaries are outrageous. If universities won't cap them and return to their mission of higher learning, then Congress should step in.
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Unfortunately, the logical body to act, the NCAA, has sat silently by. The next logical candidate is Congress.Skip to next paragraph
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Congress is already involved in college athletics. The Senate subcommittee on antitrust oversight has held hearings on the selection process for the Bowl Championship Series. The academic fate of our universities is more important than who is crowned national college football champion, so perhaps Congress can spare some time for academics.
Here's how: Most colleges and universities receive federal research grants or subsidies that help them to advance academic and intellectual interests, and to achieve socially beneficial goals. But if the institutions themselves do not value those goals, they should not receive taxpayers' money to advance the goals.
And thus Congress should prevent federal research grants or subsidies from being awarded to any educational institution that pays greater compensation on average to its football or basketball coaches than it does on average to its tenured faculty members.
Any school that pays more to those who coach big time sports than to those who teach students academic subjects shows its true colors. No taxpayer should pay money to such a school.
Some might object that if the government threatens to withhold grants and subsidies based on football or basketball coaches' salaries today, then tomorrow the government may do the same to a school that pays too much to, say, leftist professors of economics, or to a school that does not have an "appropriate" code of behavior.
But how much a school pays an athletic coach is so far removed from issues of academic freedom that applying grant and subsidy policy to the former poses no threat to the latter.
There are numerous other aspects of college athletics that reflect the disproportionate role athletics has at universities, and the proposal does not touch those.
Consider, for example, the anomaly of expensive "state of the art" training facilities that are used by a tiny fraction of the enrolled students compared with universities' chronically underfunded laboratory facilities and bulging student-faculty ratios.
But leaders in the Obama administration and in Congress have expressed a strong interest in education reform and claim to appreciate the crucial role of education in maintaining the United States' leading role in the world. They have also demonstrated sensitivity to outrageous executive compensation.
Withholding federal money from universities that pay coaches more than teachers would be a statement against hypocrisy in higher education, and it would not cost a penny.
Benjamin E. Rosenberg is a lawyer in New York.