Shine light on college sport costs

Jul. 20, 2014 @ 05:12 PM

U. S. Rep. David Price, the Chapel Hill Democrat who long has represented that university town as well as much of Durham County in Congress, has waded into the growing debate over major-college athletics.

Price’s immediate goal is greater openness about what athletic programs are costing colleges and universities. Price particularly raises concerns about the pressures on smaller colleges and universities competing against schools with much larger alumni and fan bases, lucrative television arrangements and hence far greater resource.

“I’ve been aware of the questions and issues that were gathering force,” Price told The Herald-Sun’s Steve Wiseman last week after Price and Republican Tom Petri of Wisconsin introduced a bill entitled “Standardization of Collegiate Oversight of Revenues and Expenditures.

Price summarized the key issues:

“The cost of a college education. The changes within the athletic scene which have involved huge changes in budgets. The nationalization of regional conferences.  The economics of college sports is really being transformed before our eyes.”

The goal of the SCORE Act is to require making public financial information schools and conferences report to the NCAA for their athletic departments. It would require the NCAA to be more open about its own finances, and would open up the books for football bowl games and the new College Football Playoff.

Price and Petri’s bill comes at a time when the national debate over – and congressional scrutiny of – college athletics is escalating. In just the past few days, NCAA President Mark Emmert testified before a U. S. Senate committee and said he supports several reforms in how athletes are treated – a response to mounting criticism of a system in which athletes receive nothing more than tuition, room and board for providing the entertainment that derives hundreds of millions of dollars for the institutions.

Last week, athletic directors from the Triangle’s universities mulled the implications of the five major athletic conferences – including the Atlantic Coast Conference – gaining more autonomy. If that occurs next month, they may be able to offer more benefits – including so-called “full cost of attendance” scholarships – to their athletes.

That, of course, would only increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots of university athletic programs. There are, it should be noted, far more have-nots than haves. Annual reports by the NCAA indicate that only at one in five of its member institutions does the athletic department generate enough money to cover expenses.

“Athletic departments that are not self-sustaining pose an increasingly greater risk to the financial health of the overall university as schools are pressured to invest increasingly scarce resources in athletics,” Price’s office noted in a press release on the SCORE Act.

Merely requiring that information to be made public won’t solve that dilemma. But as Price said last week, “whatever we think, we need better information… Fragmented information risks misinformation.”

Price has proposed an important piece of any effort to make sense out of our college athletics mess. We hope, with an influential Republican as a co-sponsor, the SCORE Act becomes law.