Friday, April 13, 2012

The Gopher "Brand" 

At the February 23 FCC meeting Regent David Larson told the faculty that:

[The University] can elevate the brand in the minds of the citizens and make it meaningful to them--and like it or not, intercollegiate athletics is an important part of the brand so the University must do a good job of it.
See p. 12 of the February 23, 2012 report of the FCC.
The budget for the U of M athletic department is now $78 million, and it is increasing by millions of dollars annually.  Each year the athletic department receives a multi-million dollar subsidy from the general fund of the University.  Meanwhile, the administration continues to cut courses and faculty positions and to replace professors with part-time instructors.  See Expensive Icing.  How does this make the University meaningful to the students, their parents and the citizens of our state?
Perhaps the Regent dreams of championship teams in the major sports that will finally produce widespread alumni support for academic programs.  The fact is that schools that provide a quality academic experience for undergraduate students dominate the rankings of school by percentage of alumni donors.  See Maturi Decision.
As for "elevating the brand in the minds of citizens," the high profile sports at the U of M (and at other universities) have recurring scandals that tarnish the reputation of the institution.  See section 7 in Course Correction in Higher Education.
Using big time college sports to create a "brand" simply propels the U of M further along the athletic arms race--a race that is unrelated to the academic mission of the University.  See the March 30, 2012 column by Joe Nocera in The New York Times on Orwell and March Madness
Even on a strictly economic analysis the continuing participation in the athletic arms race is a losing proposition.  The most recent NCAA annual report describes "a widening gap between schools with self-sufficient athletics programs and schools [such as the U of M] that rely on institutional subsidy to balance their athletic budgets."  See the June 15, 2011 NCAA report.
The solution is to disentangle the University from the big business of the major revenue sports.  See the final paragraph of Expensive Icing.

Michael W. McNabb
University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974
University of Minnesota Alumni Association life member

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