The Drexel Football Team is an improv group. And I like it that way.
A few weeks ago, Drexel President John Fry wrote an op-ed, “We’re Glad We Say No to College Football.” (You can probably only access the beginning of his Wall St. Journal piece, but here it is.) As a Drexel faculty member, I’m glad too.
As we wave goodbye to another college football season – another big Southern team won the championship, apparently, led by a coach who makes more money than the combined salaries of some whole academic departments – I’m happy to work at a school that doesn’t have big-time football.
Don’t get me wrong: I love football, far more than I should considering all of the NFL’s problems. But, as I re-discovered during this year’s NFL playoffs, I so enjoy watching the pro version of the game.
I don’t watch the college version. I’m in the front of the line of those who hate the gross disparities on campus that big-time football (and basketball) unapologetically put on display. I’m a professor, so, sure, my interests lie on the academic side of the house, but consider this point made by Fry:
A study released last year by the American Association of University Professors found that athletic spending increased by 25% at public four-year colleges between 2004 and 2011, adjusted for inflation. Funding for instruction and academic support remained nearly flat. The study also found that the median pay for NCAA Division I football head coaches increased 93% between 2006 and 2012. Median pay for professors rose a mere 4%.
It is an open market, and people want their football. So there’s your 93%. Employees in any field take what the market will bear. I’m also aware that we are the ones allowing the situation in which some states’ highest-paid employees are college football and basketball coaches.
Fry doesn’t call for ripping down these programs. He points out that for most schools “the cost of a prime-time sports program will always exceed revenues,” and he cites an NCAA study that found only 20 of the nearly 130 athletic programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision had a positive operating margin. The average loss?: $17.6 million. Every school, he says, doesn’t need to chase big-time football. Drexel’s one of those schools that doesn’t need it. And that’s just fine.
Myself, I like the personality of Drexel. It’s a different kind of place with a different kind of culture and a different kind of students. We’ve got the same issues with money — tuition, debt — that most institutions today are dealing with, but after Drexel students go through, usually, their five years with three co-ops, they come out on the other side not just with a good job and a good education but, I think, a kind of intellectual, academic identity that differs from those cultish schools with huge war chests and a culture of allegiance almost akin to, well, a cult.
In his piece, Fry acknowledges the role sports can play on campus, saying they foster community and can indeed “build allegiance and visibility for the institution.” Yet he recognizes the limits: “But sports are only a part of a school’s educational mission. At Drexel we recognize the benefits of sports but are not burdened by the distractions that come with maintaining a football program.” Distractions indeed. Over the past 10 years, Fry says, the NCAA has punished almost half of the so-called big-time college sports programs.
Some Drexel students would no doubt love the colorful chaos of a football Saturday on campus. But with the issues that have dogged big-time college sports, the corruption, “guarantee games,” issues of paying athletes, I never pine for Dragons on the gridiron.
As Fry said, “Not having a football program turns out to be a major strategic advantage for Drexel… we focus entirely and exclusively on our mission: delivering a high-quality education for all students.” He invites other universities to join in.
Drexel hasn’t fielded a football team since 1973. I’m good with that.
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