"Be Careful What You Wish For" Revisited: A Response to Jeff Orleans

Andrew Zimbalist
2010 Journal of Intercollegiate Sport  
I appreciate the comity and care with which Jeff Orleans has responded to my paper. He brings years of experience, intelligence and insight to this colloquy. I concur with much of his analysis on the value of college athletics, the appropriateness of a measure of institutional financial support to athletics departments, and the impact of the FBS programs on the rest of Division I and Divisions II and III. I also agree that it makes good sense to attempt to standardize the accounting of college
more » ... ounting of college athletics and to make transparent its results. 1 Similarly, I have no problem with a renewed effort to change the financial culture of college athletics and to support an end to "emergency" funding of athletic department deficits. My primary disagreement with Jeff Orleans is that I believe it makes no sense to hold potentially significant reforms hostage to the success of an effort (a) to standardize college athletics accounting, (b) to open the accounting books, (c) to change a financial culture that has evolved over the course of the past century and (d) to develop a coherent long-term plan for reform. The financial problems confronting college athletics are pressing. Deficits are growing and inequalities are sharpening. The rates of increase in athletic spending cannot be sustained in an environment where the underlying financial model of higher education is so fragile. With the cost of college education soaring to over $50,000 annually at our nation's top schools, with university endowments suffering from the collapse in the stock market, with projected weakness in our national economy and with the new educational models opened up by the internet, U.S. universities can no longer be indifferent to the profligate spending patterns in intercollegiate athletics. As I wrote in my initial paper, Jim Isch, Dan Fulks and NACUBO have been involved in a salutary effort to standardize, clarify and make more inclusive accounting practices in college athletics departments. They have made some progress, but there is a long road still to travel. The variations among schools and the accounting conundrums are simply too complex for easy answers. Assuming that a reasonable standardized system is developed some time in the future, there is then the question of getting schools to open their full books to build transparency, and, last but not least, there is the issue of monitoring the system. The latter entails not only preparing a legion of auditors, but also the NCAA filling the type of role that the IRS now does with our tax system. The NCAA will have to be an enforcer, issuing sanctions to schools who file incomplete or inaccurate reports.
doi:10.1123/jis.3.1.147 fatcat:vbrmuolfozcw5nmfiq5bolcpjm