Spin off the Colleges, too.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

If there seems to be a war against football, don't write it off as the latest fixation of the left: I see that The Wall Street Journal has published an editorial by sports author Buzz Bissinger to the effect that college football should be banned. (A blurb notes that Bissinger will be participating in a debate about banning college football on the same side as Malcolm Gladwell, whose arguments I blogged in the first link above.)

Bissinger's rationale for such a ban differs from Gladwell's, and strikes me as quite likely to appeal to fiscal conservatives.

If the vast majority of major college football programs made money, the argument to ban football might be a more precarious one. But too many of them don't--to the detriment of academic budgets at all too many schools. According to the NCAA, 43% of the 120 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision lost money on their programs. This is the tier of schools that includes such examples as that great titan of football excellence, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers, who went 3-and-9 last season. The athletic department in 2008-2009 took in over $13 million in university funds and student fees, largely because the football program cost so much, The Wall Street Journal reported. New Mexico State University's athletic department needed a 70% subsidy in 2009-2010, largely because Aggie football hasn't gotten to a bowl game in 51 years. Outside of Las Cruces, where New Mexico State is located, how many people even know that the school has a football program? None, except maybe for some savvy contestants on "Jeopardy." What purpose does it serve on a university campus? None.
Later on, Bissinger notes examples of colleges subsidizing money-losing football programs or making budget cuts that spared football programs, but hurt other sports or programs. Although Bissinger suggests making college football into a minor-league subsidiary of the NFL, he still fails to suggest a truly capitalistic solution to the problem: making colleges into independent businesses. This is because he never questions the propriety of the government forcibly taking the money of some people to hand over to others, and this is because such theft is justified, in his mind, by the "public good". For starters, note the last, rhetorical question in the above passage and his answer.

How does Bissinger know what the individuals at this small school want or need on campus? By what standard is some form of recreation (e.g., watching a football game on a weekend) of zero benefit to everyone? Such context-free, blanket assertions are part and parcel of the typical cost-benefit "analyses" of modern welfare statists that omit the many hidden costs (to individuals) of having the government run things that are properly private enterprises. They also cause us to miss an easy solution to the problem of universities wasting money on football.

A private university that wanted a football program would have many options as an independent business, none of which would forcibly deprive anyone (attending or not) of their money. Here are just a few that come to mind: subsidize the program (but answer to customers and shareholders, who may well think the subsidy is worthwhile), become an affiliate of a professional league, compete on a club level (as many schools do in soccer), or run such a program at a profit. (Failure to keep the cost of football within sustainable limits would harm only the school that failed to do so.) Likewise, such a solution would allow students who valued football as part of their college experience to have it, without our government improperly (and fascistically) banning it from all colleges.

-- CAV

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