Professor Charlie Clotfelter's 2011 book, "Big-Time Sports in American Universities," could hardly have been published at a time of more uncertainty or controversy for collegiate sports. Conference realignment, scandal and proposals to pay athletes now hang over the college sports landscape.
As LSU and Alabama, two football behemoths, prepare to battle for the national title tonight, we give you, in descending order, Professor Clotfelter's Top 5 reasons why universities continue to operate big-time sports programs.
"Note, this is the least, not the most, important reason. That is not to say money isn't important. It is, but the money that big-time sports programs earn from tickets, TV and licensing logo-laden apparel is usually used to pay for the sports program, and to offset the deficit that most of these programs run."
"From the earliest days of football in America, colleges have used the popularity and news coverage of big-time college sports to draw attention to themselves and attract applicants. A little Catholic college in South Bend, Ind., was very successful in this regard. Today, there is statistical support that Top-20 teams and appearances in the Final Four lead to jumps in the number of students applying for admission. Unfortunately, scandals associated with sports programs, when they occur, can work the other way."
3. School spirit
"Few aspects of college life create a sense of community on a campus like prominent athletics teams. At the universities with high-profile programs, football weekends bring tens of thousands of people to campus, and students so inclined have one more reason to like being there."
2. Political support
"Especially for public universities, political support at the state capitol is vitally important, and there are few perks that legislators or governors like more than good seats at home games. It is a time-honored tradition at many flagship state universities to give tickets to legislators and invite the state's movers and shakers to hobnob with each other in the president's box. And when conferences go looking for new members, governors do their best to make sure their state universities don't get overlooked."
1. Winning games
"None of the first four reasons would be enough to explain the longevity or vitality of big-time sports programs in universities. The most important reason why universities bear the costs and occasional heartache associated with big-time sports is, quite simply, that those who run the university -- the trustees or the regents -- want to have competitive teams. No matter what the university mission statements say, one of the core functions of universities with big-time sports is to do that and do that respectably. Sports is not a means to an end. It is an end unto itself."