Football team ‘night out,’ a pre-game ritual that costs colleges


College football coaches can sure be selfish, at times. And misguided.

The recent Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics reveals that spending at many college sports programs is out of control. A group that represents athletic directors will present some cost-cutting measures to the NCAA in the next few weeks.

Among the cost-cutting measures – Asking schools to eliminate housing teams off-campus before home games, a practice where teams check into a local hotel. Some football coaches are opposed to this cost-cutting measure, believing the hotel minimizes distractions for players who, presumably, can’t stay out of trouble.

Says Nebraska football coach Bo Pellini: “You’re just opening yourself up to problems, things happening. There are so many things that happen the night before the game. … It’s nice to have them in one place. Keep them out of the distractions. Kids will be kids.”

So football players are incapable of acting like athletes competing in soccer, cross country and volleyball who – gasp! – must reside in their dorms or apartments the night before home games?

Let’s estimate the cost for an overnight stay in a hotel. Were the Cornhuskers to stay at the Holiday Inn Express, located four miles from campus on Belmont Avenue, the team would pay anywhere from $92.99 to $109.99. But let’s assume the school has worked a deal where they pay only $75. Like most college football teams, the Cornhuskers would have 85 scholarship players, meaning they would need 43 rooms for players along with, perhaps, another five to ten rooms for coaches and trainers. So, let’s again be conservative and say 50 rooms. Multiply that by $75 for a cost of $3,750. Then, multiply that figure for seven home games, which equals $26,250 (sans expense for dinner or breakfast).

Did the Cornhuskers really need to hide away at a hotel before playing Florida Atlantic? Please.

I’m sure the $26,000 could help preserve one of the 56 staff positions eliminated at the Lincoln campus. In addition, Nebraska is considering more budget cuts for 2010.

Yes, the football team generates the largest revenue for the athletics program, having sold out 300-plus straight games and selling many licensed jerseys and hats. But I’d guess this night out with the team isn’t the reason for this success.

Most athletic programs do not yield a profit, something that has educators concerned across the country. In fact, only 24 of the top 120 programs in the country did not lose money, according to William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland and co-chairman of the Knight Commission. Deficits average $10 million per school.

Athletics at California-Berkeley regularly lose millions of dollars each season. School leaders there are considering whether this practice will continue. Berkeley’s deficit may reach $6.4 million by the end of this school year. The argument vs. athletics: that a university should not subsidize elite athletes at a time when college costs are soaring, faculty are being furloughed, and course offerings are reduced.

Nationally, athletic expenditures are rising three to four times faster than costs in academic programs, Kirwan says. “That’s obviously not something that can continue,” he says. “We are in an environment that certainly calls for — and I would say almost demands — change.”

“It’s the same kind of market that drove us over a cliff,” said Hodding Carter, professor of leadership and public policy at the University of North Carolina. “So we’ve got to make the same argument for intelligent regulation in college sports as we did in the larger economy.”

True, academics do not make any dough either, but students are not being flown across the country, nor are they being housed in a hotel the night before a big test.

So who benefits?

Clearly, coaches, whose salaries can exceed $1 million. More than 60 college football coaches are expected to make seven-figures this season, topped by Southern Cal’s Pete Carroll ($4.4 million), Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis ($4.2 million) and Alabama’s Nick Saban ($3.9 million).

Players also can benefit by receiving full scholarships and by learning skills that can help them reach professional levels.

The university can also benefit by having a sports program. Alums may remain involved with the school, perhaps donating additional funds.

But programs are wasting money. Staying at a hotel off-campus the night before a game is that important, Bo? Really? That seems ostentatious – and rude.

College sports writers need to review their school’s athletic budgets, determining how funds are allocated and spent. Ask a local accountant to help with this project. And compare budgets across several years, starting with the most recent, in order to better see the big picture.

Here are some other related stories that can offer more insight into the Knight Commission’s report.

  • While university presidents are frustrated and flabbergasted by the spiraling, unsustainable cost of running big-time college sports teams, they are struggling to find solutions, especially in dire economic times. [Miami Herald]
  • From stratospheric coaches’ salaries to a growing divide between the haves and the have-nots of college sports, university presidents say they are very worried about the commercialization of intercollegiate athletics. Yet they feel powerless to do much about it, according to a survey of 95 presidents released Monday by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a watchdog group. [New York Times]
  • A new Knight Foundation report that found a majority of college presidents saying they feel powerless to contain the escalating costs of big-time college athletics “should come as no surprise,” says a Duke University professor. [Duke News]
  • Athletic spending on college campuses is out of control, university presidents say, especially when it comes to coaching salaries. [Houston Chronicle]


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