End the Athletics Arms Race

Contrary to a widely held assumption, a college or university with a champion sports team doesn't necessarily mean the school attracts more or better students or reaps the benefit of bigger alumni gifts.

In fact, a new study by the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics shows those benefits to be "very small," according to its author, Robert Frank, a Cornell University professor.

Hmmm. Maybe colleges should be sinking less money into recruiting and maintaining winning teams. After all, winners and losers will always be a part of college sports.

Some college athletic budgets do seem out of whack: At the University of Michigan, for example, nearly $50 million was spent on athletics in the 2003-04 school year. Athletic budgets rose at more than twice the rate of the total budgets of universities in Division 1 schools between 1995 and 2001. Not only that, but the Knight study shows that most athletics departments are spending more money than they're taking in.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association already has been involved in trying to rein in the abuses caused by the intense competition among colleges to woo star athletes. It implemented a set of reforms last month aimed at curbing the celebrity status of athletes on campus by prohibiting, for instance, colleges from indulging in sponsoring lavish trips by private jet. Surely, the NCAA could expand its role in helping stem the athletics arms race, especially now that it appears all that effort doesn't translate into more cash or students for the schools.

Mr. Frank also posts an intriguing, if wishful, point: "If all [higher ed] institutions cut back their spending together, then a competitive balance would still be maintained."

Certainly, schools shouldn't rely exclusively on their sports teams to attract students. It's time to adjust the balance and reset priorities.

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