Some thoughts on sports like college baseball, and the perception that its cost outweighs the benefits derived…from those who play and compete for success – for an entirely different title.
Port Charlotte, Fla – On the brink of another NCAA baseball season I want to wax philosophic about college sports, the cost, the benefits, and what we all get in varying degrees for our money?
And the operative words are ‘our money’, because we all pay taxes in Ohio to support in one way or another schools like Ohio State, Ohio University, BG, Cincinnati, Kent, Toledo, and Wright State.
I bring this up because in a column this week written by Fort Worth Star-Telegraph columnist Mac Engel, one of the nation’s best, he takes on the issue of college basketball (writing about TCU basketball and its relevance to football on that campus), and shared this statement relative to football and basketball being the ‘revenue’ sports that pay for everything else.
He writes, “(In Texas) we love football, and but we ‘like’ basketball. We might even love baseball more than basketball.”
I don’t know because I don’t follow Twitter that much, but apparently someone took him to task for his left-handed ‘dissing’ of college baseball. Because, in a back and forth with some of his followers Engel subsequently wrote on Twitter:
Engel: “Pretty much athletic departments go with basketball way over baseball. Basketball generates positive cash flow whereas baseball is a financial drain for every program. The cost differential between the facilities alone are staggering. Trust me on this – baseball is a massive drain on college athletic departments. All of them. Funding the scholarships. The coaching staffs. A facility that requires a lot of money to maintain. Travel costs. Equipment. They generate little revenue. I’ve worked in three college athletic departments, and was a college baseball SID. I’ve talked to college ADs about this. College baseball is incredibly expensive. And there are no broadcast rights to sell. Great sport. Loses money hand over fist.”
Mac Engel is a veteran writer, an award-winning writer, and got that way by being in control of a lot of facts. But like all writers, his perspective is sometimes skewed by either what’s popular, what pays, and what keeps the engine that supports him running.
And it’s true that baseball doesn’t make money for Ohio State University, or Bowling Green, Cincinnati, or Wright State. In fact, even the most popularly-followed Division I baseball programs in America (LSU, Texas, Florida, and Oregon State, I guess) would probably have a tough time proving that the sport pays its own way, even in part.
But you could also say that for thirty other Division I sports at those schools, all supported by football, and all there for one very good reason. It’s different strokes, for different folks, that attract the best and most competitive people that later go pro in fields other than sports.
The fact is, where Engel stops with his tweet…the rest of the conversation about ‘college’ and its broad value goes on. Because if you were to analyze it all – all those fields of study and degrees offered – there’s a lot of them that don’t make money.
I’m guessing that the school of music at Ohio State doesn’t exactly glow in terms of dollars harvested from kids with a musical bent. And I’ve been to many concerts at Mershon Auditorium that I know didn’t pay the electric bill. Yet, they were justified for their value to the educational process.
Don’t tell me the school of geology is planning a new building on campus, because there’s just too much demand – that it’s just too popular.
Even the school of medicine, as valuable as it is to schools like OSU, Michigan, and UCLA, probably costs more than it takes in from tuition and grants. And the list goes on – education, business, engineering, nursing, and even…religious studies, black studies, Russian, or a degree in history.
But the stated purpose of every university charter is not to make money off Biology 101. Rather, it’s to produce an alumni that goes out in the world, serves culture, and improves the standard of living by generation. Thereby, those institutions promote individual success that pays back to Ohio State University in the form of taxes, donations, endowments…and even those annoying Sunday evening phone calls asking if they can depend on you for your continued support.
Baseball falls in this list, too. It’s the oldest sport on campus at Ohio State (since 1881) and its list of distinguished alumni is in proportion as impressive as that of football and basketball. Big leaguers? Yes…the likes of Frank Howard, Galen Cisco, Steve Arlin, and Nick Swisher, whose generous gift of a million dollars helped fund Bill Davis Stadium, one of the nation’s premier on-campus baseball facilities.
But a lot more have been successful in different fields after, and outside of baseball – in business, finance, education, and yes, even journalism.
All of us can say that we’ve benefited from the sports that produced the revenues – football and basketball. But given the much larger perspective, none of us want to be labeled as a drain, nor can it be substantiated that we are.
Former Ohio State baseballer (and football standout) Arnie Chonko never played baseball after college, but did go on to become Dr. Arnie Chonko, Professor of Medicine, Kidney Institute, at the University of Kansas. His research in diabetes, dialysis therapy, and chronic kidney injury has helped save thousand of lives.
Dr. Steve Arlin (who did play major league baseball) saved thousands of teeth after baseball, a practicing dentist in San Diego.
And countless others, in every sport you can name other than football and basketball, have gone on to enrich the fiber and tapestry of our culture.
The point is, Mac – and I love your work – there has to be a payoff from football other than the money and media interest it generates, positive and negative. Because for every Lawrence Phillips and Ray Rice, there’s an Arnie Chonko – a Barry Bonnell.
Can you at least make the point that all the sports (other than football) are an ultimate ‘pay forward’. Can you not appreciate…what baseball, softball, soccer, pistol, wrestling, diving, and tennis has done for us all?
Now…let’s play ball!