We know that universities spend an inordinate amount of money on their revenue athletic programs, on things like ridiculous salaries for football coaches, stadium renovations, and state-of-the-art practice facilities. But now schools are dumping more and more money into tutoring and other “academic services” for athletes. Many programs are spending well over $1 million per year on such things, further calling into question the “student” part of student-athlete.
In other words, not only are you now getting a free education, but you’re also getting free help to accomplish what normal students are expected to do on their own. And tutoring means different things to different people. At the University of Minnesota, it once meant actually writing papers for players. At many public universities now, your tax money is going to fund elaborate facilities solely designed to help athletes with their classwork. Are BCS athletic departments turning into diploma mills?
The ASSOCIATED PRESS’ Chris Talbott (via the KILLEEN DAILY HERALD) describes some of these new buildings. I’m sure there aren’t any other things these schools could find to do with $10 million:
Mississippi State recently cut the ribbon on a $10 million building that features group and individual study areas, private cubicles for tutoring and the latest in computer and video conferencing, plus a cafeteria and weight room. A school that used to tutor students in a basement now has a facility where 12-foot-tall front doors open onto an elaborate display of great moments in school history that’s meant to wow recruits and their parents.
A few weeks after Mississippi State opened its center, South Carolina upped the ante with a groundbreaking ceremony for a $13 million facility.
Plans call for a new, three-story center at Oregon.
Oklahoma, with a 30,000- square-foot facility that cost between $7 million and $8 million, spent about $2.45 million helping all its athletes last year.
Eight BCS schools increased spending on academics services for athletes by at least 70 percent in the last four years. The impetus for all of this isn’t some sort of renewed interest in churning out a bunch of Rhodes Scholars. It’s mostly because of the regulations that punish schools by taking away scholarships if they don’t meet certain academic benchmarks.
NCAA head-honcho Myles Brand thinks all of this is just fantastic:
“Now, when I go around and speak on campuses and speak to coaches and athletic programs and to student-athletes, they want to brag about how well they’re doing academically,” NCAA president Myles Brand said. “They want to show me the academic study centers. The coaches want to talk about and brag about their APR (Academic Progress Report). All that is good. A few years ago, that was the last thing people wanted to talk about.
The regulations may be working in the sense that the APR is being taken more seriously, but if this is all about just jumping through a bunch of hoops to save scholarships, then it might be a waste of time. It would be interesting to know if schools are using their resources to actually enhance the academic environment for athletes, or if they are just finding better ways to keep players’ grades up regardless of the cost (and build a flashy facility for recruits to see, ie. the Mississippi State complex).
The AP piece tells the story of Michael Oher, an Ole Miss lineman who could barely read as a teenager and attended 11 schools in 9 years because of family turmoil (his childhood is discussed in Michael Lewis‘ book The Blind Side). Oher is on pace to graduate this year, and says that college was “a breeze.” He also received a lot of academic assistance from his school, and without that one could assume he’d never be in this position. It’s a great story that someone like Oher could use his athletic talents to earn a degree (and he’s an NFL prospect), but you hope that if the NFL doesn’t work out that he’s learned enough to face the world on his own, without an advisor helping him with his schedule, studying, and homework.