Sports are total waste of moneyApr 6th, 2009 | By Nate | Category: Columns, Opinions, Sports Commentary
In one of my recent classes, a professor was relating a story from when he went to Missouri State. He said how in the beginning of the fall semester, his fraternity decided to show some school spirit by getting permission to light a bonfire between the old McDonald Hall Arena and what was then Briggs Stadium (now the Plaster Sports Complex).
The reason for this was the football team; they hadn’t managed a win yet and the frat pledged to keep a cauldron boiling in that space until they scored a win. By the time winter break rolled around, there was ice and snow all around the cauldron, and the frat gave up to a season of utter failure.
Now, some people love sports. I’ll be honest and say it’s not exactly my thing. When people get riled up and really enthusiastic about their favorite teams, it’s probably a harmless way to occupy their time. But when it comes to school spirit, academia and a question of where we spend our money, there has to be an examination of the facts.
Colleges often invest heavily in a sports program to raise the prestige of the school and attract students and sales of both tickets and merchandise. It’s an investment in the lives of those involved and the future of the program, with returns of success, increased enrollment and profits. When those returns don’t materialize, we have to consider the other opportunities that exist by investing in quality programs and other methods that promote student success.
It’s no small secret that the MSU football team has not been very successful recently; 4-7 this year, 6-5 last year and 2-8 the year before that. The men’s basketball team has done a little better, going 11-20 this year, 17-16 last year and 22-11 the year before that. The woman’s basketball team loses about 2 games for every one they win.
Now, big deal, right? Why am I trashing on these teams? Because of the inordinate amount of spending and money that goes into these things. According to a Cornell study, “indirect benefits to colleges from successful athletic programs are very small”. Colleges that win championships have a three year spike in donations and applications. Another study by the NCAA itself says spending on athletics is a poor investment, with few financial returns. A few schools are very successful, and the rest aren’t, but want to be, so there’s a positional arms race, with different colleges trying to outspend each other, thinking that a few more bucks will make players perform better. There’s a notion that a coach will emerge who can make everything better, and he deserves whatever we can pay him.
However, most successful sports teams are dynasties. People perceive random fluctuations in the performance of any system to be patterns and find significance where there is none. This is why we try to recruit and hire the best, to build a dynasty of our own, and until it gets done right, or clicks, there’s a lot of random performance. Back to the subject of money, lets take the Plaster Sports Complex (and ignore the much more powerful and costly example of the JQH Arena).
It was originally a construction of the Works Progress Administration, part of FDR’s means of employing the unemployed. It cost $60,000, a costly sum for the day. Its last major renovation was in 1992, which made it the PSC that it is today. In 2006, they finished installing Field Turf synthetic grass for $1 million. Last summer a Jumbotron system was installed at a cost of $2 million.
Noam Chomsky says “Sports… offer people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. That keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And… it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in discussions of sports as opposed to political and social issues.”
If Missouri State is expecting a return on the investments they’ve made in sports, they’ve found themselves duped. Someone told me we threw away 1.3 million dollars last year on football (besides the jumbotron, I assume) Instead of continuing a costly “arms race” of sports spending on unrewarding ventures, why not decide to build an educational department that can stand out in the state and the nation?
It seems unfair to waste tuition and alumni money on projects that don’t give us our money back, when we could have said, “Let’s have the best political science/biology/theater/whatever department in the state”. As far as I know, MSU has nothing worth bragging about like SLU’s nursing program or Mizzou’s Journalism school. And that’s because we’ve kept focusing our attention on something that Dr. Chomsky would call “training in irrational jingoism.” We can read that as “defending bad ideas against all odds.” That’s certainly the motto of resource-sucking institutions like organized sports.
Today, we’re keeping that bonfire burning, same as it was decades ago. This time, we’re just throwing our tuition money on it.