Professor urges college to reform sports spending

MIDDLEBURY — College sports is a big deal in Middlebury. Not big enough, says Charles T. Clotfelter.
The Duke University economics professor will deliver a lecture titled “What?! You Don’t Take College Sports Seriously?” on Thursday, April 5, at 4:30 p.m. in Twilight Auditorium on the Middlebury campus.
“The cost of big time athletics is growing faster than anything else that universities do,” Clotfelter said.
At Duke, where Clotfelter teaches, athletics rule the roost. Duke President Michael Brodhead makes $824,755 every year. The head basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, nets 5 times as much — $4.1 million.
To an economist like Clotfelter, this inequality isn’t just surprising; it’s fodder for analysis. Clotfelter’s new book, “Big-Time Sports in American Universities” uses hard economics to explore these differences.
And, despite its scholarly façade, the book is informative and readable. Fred Barnes of the Wall Street Journal said, “Charles Clotfelter … proves to be a delightful guide on a quest to answer two questions: Why do so many universities embrace big-time sports? And what are the consequences?”
Clotfelter’s presentation in Middlebury next month will draw on his research for the book, and highlight how big-time sports often overshadow university academics. Clotfelter also suggests that the athletic-academic relationship has had some surprising benefits, like de-segregating the American South.
His book asserts that for a century or more, big-time college sports have been a wildly popular but consistently problematic part of American higher education. The challenges sports pose to traditional academic values have been recognized from the start, but they have grown more ominous in recent decades as cable television has become ubiquitous, commercial opportunities have proliferated and athletic budgets have ballooned.
Clotfelter finds that, rather than being the inconsequential student activity that universities often imply that it is, big-time sports has become a core function of the universities that engage in it.
His talk will also question the effectiveness of reforming the commercial college sports system from within.
“If you want to reform big time college athletics, you’ve got to start in the trustee board room,” Clotfelter said.
Clotfelter is the Z. Smith Reynolds Professor of Public Policy, professor of Economics and Law, and director at the Duke University Center for the Study of Philanthropy and Voluntarism.
His lecture organized by Middlebury Professor Phanindra Wunnava, David K. Smith ’42 Chair in Applied Economics, and is supported by the professorship.
It is free and open to the public.

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