Schwartz: An Opportunity Among The Debris

April 19, 2020

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

“God help us if that is the scenario.”

Those were the words Florida State athletic director David Coburn said to about what happens to college athletics if COVID-19 wipes out the 2020 college football season.

It’s upsetting yet easy to imagine a fall without Hawkeye football. Many words come to mind:

Empty. Sad. Disappointing. Disheartening. Dispiriting.


What’s less obvious is how the absence of college football could crush all of college sports. It would be turning off the spout that spits money and allows non-revenue sports to exist. All those athletes who can’t figure out why no one except mom and dad come to watch them swim and golf will have to find another outlet for their impressive yet unmarketable physical skills.

I want college football this fall. Honestly, I need it. If we can’t have college football, however, then at least we can finally see – out in the open – the ruse of non-revenue college athletics.

Let’s ask important questions. Let’s think critically about those questions to see if we can come to the beginning of some answers.

Question 1: Colleges and universities across the country scrutinize expenses, don’t hesitate to drop departments with insufficient students, and underpay adjunct professors to save nickels and pennies. Yet they continually bankroll non-revenue sports that lose money. They don’t even come close to earning back what they cost.

Across the country there are tens of thousands of students on college athletic scholarships worth millions and millions of dollars. They fly around the country or ride on gas-guzzling buses. They play in front of almost no one. Conferences had to invent television networks just to get their obscure sports some airtime. Colleges fund non-revenue sports knowing they will operate entirely in the red.


Question 2: An NCAA ad boasts: “Only 2% of student-athletes go pro – that’s why academics come first.”

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Know what percentage of mechanical engineers “go pro?” About 96 percent. Accounting? 97 percent. Education majors? 98 percent. And they’re adding a hell of a lot more value, dollars, benefits, and strength to our society than the lacrosse and soccer players whose athletic scholarships should be going to academic endeavors.

The NCAA claims that college athletics “opens doors” for its athletes. So what? An academic scholarship would “open doors” for a finance major, too. A need-based scholarship for a high-achieving high school student would “open doors.”

Then with the hundreds of millions saved on non-revenue sports that very few people would miss, you give even MORE academic scholarships, and then next thing you know, MORE people of all sociocultural and economic statuses are going to college, all of society benefits, colleges save millions, and fans still get their football and basketball – and in some parts of the country, wrestling or baseball or volleyball or … whatever sport doesn’t bleed a college’s budget.

Instead, poor kids with 3.2 high school GPAs stay home from college because their 200m freestyle times aren’t fast enough.


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Question 3: Let’s keep it simple:

Americans don’t just need money – we worship it.

Except when it comes to the financial management of college sports.


Final question: College football’s revenue and fan identity make it an important social exercise. It’s worth the money. The more quality scientists, engineers, and artists a college produces, the better our society. It’s worth the money.

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But who benefits from the continued existence of non-revenue college sports?

Not colleges.

Not the United States.

Not small or big businesses.

Not religious institutions.

Not the huge majority of American teenagers who want to go to college.

So, who?

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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