Monday, March 6, 2017

Football and University Priorities

If you are a student at a large state university paying a student activity fee, or a loyal alumnus donating annually to alma mater, you might think you are contributing something of importance to higher education. Something you or someone in your family might benefit from.  Think again.

According an article in the Orlando Sentinel (3-3-17) by David Whitley, lavish spending on athletic facilities, with fancy waterfalls and Italian lounge chairs, to attract potential players has been on the increase. Scholarships are, apparently, not enough, or a new stadium.

At the $138 million sportsplex at Oregon, the ventilated lockers come from Germany, the wood floors from Brazil, and the lounge chairs  in the barber shop from Italy.  Alabama has four waterfalls in its hydrotherapy room. Florida is about to build a $60 million manor for football players (who are being treated like professional athletes), not for the average students who pay the student activity fee.

My own University of Central Florida wants to raise $25 million for an athletic village featuring a "lazy river" of meandering pools, the kind we associate with luxury resorts. Why?  Because schools like UCF are trying their best to outbid each other in the effort to attract future players and to keep their present star athletes suitably pampered.

Whitley says that, in 2014 alone, the top-tier, Power Five schools spent $772 million on such facilities, and that was double what was spent a decade earlier.

Much has been written about the vast expense of trying to please alumni and friends of the university with huge salaries and perks for football programs, but these figures blew me away.

And what fundraising is being done to help faculty salaries or anything related to education, the actual business of these schools?  What is being done to pay adjunct (part-time) instructors a living wage so they don't have to take on six or more classes to make a minimal ($20,000 annually) salary, with no benefits?  Very little, if anything.  There is no glamour there.

As I saw each year I spent at UCF, state money is available each year for more administrators with inflated salaries as the university has come to resemble a huge corporation rather than a place of learning.  And for football, which supposedly brings wide publicity and major donations that help the school, the sky is the limit, as these figures indicate.  The problem keeps getting worse, with a sense of priorities a lost cause.

My alma mater wisely dropped its college football program more than 60 years ago because it was too distracting, too expensive. The focus at St. Louis University has been on quality education for the students as well as its proud, but a reasonably priced, basketball program that keeps SLU out of the big-league world of mega-sports competitive madness.

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