Note to The Chronicle of Higher Education: If you’re going to go with a sensational headline, please get it right.
In a Dec. 11 story, the nation’s leading chronicler of higher education assembled eight writers to address this topic: “What in the hell has happened to college sports? And what should we do about it?”
The subhead says “No wonder they call it big-time sports/College athletics programs pull in about $106-billion in revenue annually. But the challenges facing college sports may outweigh any dollar amount.”
To challenge the Chronicle is to appear defensive, especially when they are in red-meat mode, as shown by the “what in the hell” language. So it is with considerable trepidation that I offer the actual figure for college athletics revenue: It is somewhere between $11 and $12 billion, or about $95 billion less than the figure cited. If you count only generated revenues (ticket sales, TV contracts, etc.), the number is quite a bit less.
Putting that doozy aside, here is the guidance from the panel of experts:
Frank Deford: “Bust the Amateur Myth”
William C. Friday: “Get Out of Show Business”
Harry Edwards: “Share the Wealth”
Tom McMillen: “Eliminate the Profit Motive”
Nancy Hogshead Makar: “Tie Money to Values”
Oscar Robertson: “Don’t Treat Players Like Gladiators”
Len Elmore: “Exempt the NCAA from Antitrust”
Astute readers will immediately see two things. First, most of the writers have written the same stuff in various places many times before; there’s not much new here. Second, the collection is so conflicted as to be useless. Some want to get rid of the excess money; some want the money to go to those who are thought to generate it. Some want to get rid of show business; others want to get rid of academic pretense.
The most common suggestion from the group of eight may be to give college sports an antitrust exemption. That’s fine, but it’s also beyond the NCAA’s control. I’m not aware of a groundswell in Congress to create an antitrust exemption, and I can only imagine the histrionics that would accompany any such effort.
But back to the $106 billion. The number isn’t treated anywhere in the Chronicle package, so it’s not clear where they came up with it. The NCAA has researched the topic of overall revenue, and here’s the relevant question and answer on NCAA.org:
“Is NCAA revenue different from money generated by member conferences and institutions?
“Yes. The most recent estimate from the NCAA research staff is that college athletics programs annually generate about $6.1 billion from ticket sales, radio and television receipts, alumni contributions, guarantees, royalties and NCAA distributions. Another $5.3 billion is considered allocated revenue, which comes from student fees allocated to athletics, direct and indirect institutional support, and direct government support.”
The $106 billion figure would seem to be prima facie wrong since it would require about $100 million in annual athletics revenue for every NCAA Division I, II and III member (more than 1,000 colleges and universities). If only it were so. The most recent NCAA study identified only 11 programs exceeding $100 million in revenue.
One hopes that this error doesn’t take on a life of its own as it’s perpetuated by other media.
The Chronicle of Higher Education subsequently changed the headline to $10.6 billion.