For once, the lead story in MIdAmerican Conference athletics news is about the Eastern Michigan Eagles. Like usual, it's negative, pretty bleak, and not the greatest thing to open up as a new football season dawns. Been keeping up with the financial news of college sports, lately? If not, you should. When the numbers came out it was assumed it would be but a matter of time until university administrators and faculty began their bemoaning of the boorish brutish athletes and how they were far too expensive and uncivilized for the academics of the world. It took less than a week.
On Friday, as reported in the Detroit Free Press, Eastern Michigan faculty and students responded by presenting to the institution's Board of Regents that EMU should stop competing at the FBS level and instead drop to the FCS level in a move that would allegedly save money and benefit the Eagles long term.
On paper, the move looks like it could be viable. Football is without question the most expensive thing on the books of a major athletic department. It also has significant Title IX and gender equity responsibilities that mandate the funding and expenses of other sports from an institution, as well. Throw in the economies of scale with an 85-man roster when it comes to travel, food, apparel, and equipment, and it is understandable why the first fingers to point will be in football's general direction.
Here's the thing most will lose sight of in this kerfuffle about football dollars and sports as a general philosophical entity: it's never really been about dollars and cents to begin with and making it a straight bottom line proposition is a fool's game for a whole lot more than just football or sports in general. When was the last time that a university really looked at the bottom line of anything? And I say that as someone who has spent the better part of his career in higher education.
At its most basic principles, an institution of higher education is providing intangible benefits to a populace and a group of people that aren't so credit-debit in the ledger. Programs with successful athletics have higher school pride. Higher school pride leads to more applications. More applications leads to more students. More students leads to more graduates. More graduates lead to more alumni. More alumni leads to more alumni donations. And the band goes on, and on, and on. But it's not just sports.
Take the educational mission of a university. A basic cost for need approach would be a student taking only the courses that prepare them to do whatever job they are attempting to train for instead of english, math, history, and a host of other core courses. Instead, a professor provides instruction in core components that have nothing to do with a student's major. That student becomes a well-rounded educated person. That person goes out and changes the world and doesn't beg for change under an overpass. See? The argument of "higher education benefits the greater good" is a valid one and one that applies to both jocks and nerds alike.
If Joe Q. Faculty or Sally Jean Student wants to overly simplify the math, they should feel free to do so, but I hope they understand that the French Lit tenured professor making $100k a year and teaching two classes of six people each isn't bringing in much revenue, either. Of course, to dismiss the faculty would be "detrimental to the mission of the school". Personally, until I can play cornhole and drink beer in a parking lot before a big physics exam, I know which one I'm advocating for.