Starving students and very, very well-paid head coaches

Yesterday (Monday), I called bullshit on an attempt to excuse spending increases on college athletics while spending on the principle mission of an educational institution, academics, remained flat or decreased. I warned against a false equivalence between the athletic endeavors and scholarly missions of colleges and universities.[1] Since then, Jordan Weissman, at Slate, posted a chart (figure 1), possibly from the American Association of University Professors report itself, that graphically illustrates the issue. Unfortunately, his article makes the very mistake I warned against in suggesting that the coaches receiving outrageous raises might be “stars” and should be compared only against “exceptional” academics.[2] First, the data is unlikely to make the comparison he claims. Not all, as any NCAA fan will surely attest, head coaches are “stars.” It’s much more likely to compare aggregates for all men’s football head coaches against all men’s basketball head coaches against all men’s golf head coaches, etc., against all professors than it is to pick out “stars.” Second, it doesn’t matter: The primary mission is education, not academics. It’s the coaches and the athletic programs that should be living—well, maybe not on scraps, but you get the idea, regardless of “star” quality, not the professors.

Fig. 1. Percentage change in median compensation for men's head coaches and full professors, 2005-06 to 2011-12.
Fig. 1. Percentage change in median compensation for men’s head coaches and full professors, 2005-06 to 2011-12.

The sense that something here is very wrong indeed is amplified in another story, in which “the University of Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier [one of the best basketball players in the country] recently told reporters he sometimes goes to bed ‘starving’ because he can’t afford food, despite that UConn’s student-athlete guidelines include provisions for meal plans.” The story fails to explain why this is so, but Northwestern University’s claim, objecting to a move to unionize NCAA athletes (mostly paraphrased), “that student-athletes are not university employees but ‘students, first and foremost'”[3] also rings hollow: A series of stories has shown that some so-called “student-athletes” are admitted with abysmal reading and writing abilities, “given grades for classes they didn’t attend, and where they did nothing more than turn in a single paper,” and further that the University of North Carolina had taken what many saw as retaliatory action against a professor who blew the whistle on these practices (but, I suspect, may indeed have crossed ethical lines in revealing the problem).[4]

Nonetheless, if universities are failing to adequately feed even the so-called “student-athletes”, whom universities have turned into multi-million dollar profit centers, what does this say about how they’re taking care of ordinary students, you know, the ones who are actually in college to get an education? If a Bachelor’s degree has indeed come to be meaningless, because of the oft-cited ills of ‘grade inflation’ and ‘degree inflation’, it seems like this might be part of the story.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Your football or your life,” Not Housebroken, April 7, 2014,
  2. [2]Jordan Weissmann, “A Chart About College Coach Salaries That Will Make Academics Weep,” Slate, April 7, 2014,
  3. [3]Sara Ganim, “UConn guard on unions: I go to bed ‘starving’,” CNN, April 8, 2014,
  4. [4]Sara Ganim, “CNN analysis: Some college athletes play like adults, read like 5th-graders,” CNN, January 8, 2014,; see also David Benfell, “Telling too much truth,” Not Housebroken, January 18, 2014,; Nick DeSantis, “U. of North Carolina Suspends Researcher’s Work on Athletes’ Literacy,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 17, 2014,; Mark Esposito, “Mary Willingham’s Reprieve,” Jonathan Turley, February 1, 2014,; Colleen Flaherty, “Whistle-Blower Blocked,” Inside Higher Ed, January 20, 2014,; Sara Ganim, “Death threats and denial for woman who showed college athletes struggle to read,” CNN, January 14, 2014,; Sara Ganim, “UNC: We failed students ‘for years’,” CNN, January 29, 2014,; Jonathan Turley, “North Carolina Professor Under Fire For Disclosing Athletes Who Can Barely Read Or Write,” January 10, 2014,

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