Forget Rutgers Coach Mike Rice: College Sports Abuses Virtually All Students

Student fees for teams increase costs across the board.


Rutgers University has fired men's basketball coach Mike Rice after video footage surfaced in which Rice pushes, shoves, attacks, and calls players everything from "fucking faggots" to "motherfuckers" to "sissy bitches" to "cunts." The language is truly vile, which is why it demands full representation.

The video, compiled by a former assistant coach for Rice and aired on ESPN, shows Rice bouncing basketballs off players' heads and crotches in a way that would make even such legendary hardass coaches as Bobby Knight blush. Rutgers officials suspended and fined Rice last year before giving him the heave-ho this morning as the video went wide. If you want to read some great weasel-worded verbiage on the matter, check out this letter by Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi announcing his principled and urgent decision to can Rice. It's a masterpiece of phony outrage that even Claude Rains as Capt. Renault in Casablanca couldn't have pulled off.

As a college sports fan—and a usually-proud Rutgers alumall I can say is good riddance. No one would put up with a professor or an administrator or a physical plant worker or even a roommate screaming at students in such a manner. There's no reason why such behavior should be tolerated in athletics, either, especially since we are told constantly that such games exist mostly to build character and leadership skills.

But there's another, more subtle and yet more profound way that Division I college sports is abusing most college students at most shools around the country, even if they never suit up for a practice or attend a single varsity competition of any sort.

The vast majority of collegespublic and privatemassively subsidize varsity sports directly out of mandatory student fees and other school funds. Despite the ability of top-tier teams to earn a lot of revenue via television contracts, ticket sales, merchandise sales, and other activities, most schools still hit up students in both direct and indirect ways.

Consider Rutgers, which dates back to the colonial period and is the flagship state university for New Jersey. According to a database compiled on an annual basis by USA Today, Rutgers' athletic department spent just over $60 million to field all its teams, pay its coaches, etc. in 2011. The school generated about $9 million in ticket sales, $7.6 million in alumni and corporate donations, $8.8 million in rights and licensing fees, and $6 million in other revenue. The school also sucked a whopping $9 million in student fees and another $19.4 million in school funds. When all is tallied up, USA Today calculates that Rutgers is subsidizing the operation of its athletic department to the tune of 47 percent of its expenses. Let's underscore that: This is money that is overwhelmingly going to field football, baseball, lacrosse, and other sports teams. It's not going to create new sections of Biology 101 or English 251 or underwrite the discovery of the next Streptomycin or publish the next Economics and the Public Interest or anything that remotely comes close to education or research.

Spending close to $30 million on sports is an odd way to signal that Rutgers' core function is as a research university. Tuition and fees for in-state undergraduates are about $13,000 a year; you might be forgiven for thinking that the $30 million being routed through locker rooms run by coaches such as Mike Rice could do more good by funding academic research, faculty appointments, or cutting costs to students.

Rutgers is hardly alone in massively subsidizing sports programs. The Cinderella team of this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament is Wichita State, which has improbably earned a trip to the Final Four on Saturday. In 2011, Wichita State kicked in about $6.5 million, or about 30 percent of the athletic department's budget, from student fees and school funds. The team the Shockers are playing on Saturday, the University of Louisville Cardinals, dinged students for about $10 million in fees and school funds, which amounts to about 11 percent of the athletic department's budget. Louisville is like Rutgers: It's a large state-subsidized school which spends a ton of money on its sports programs. To be sure, Louisville has been far more successful in the marquee sports of football and men's basketball even at it trails far behind Rutgers in U.S. News and World Report's college rankings (Rutgers comes in at 68 and Louisville at 160 in the "national universities" category).

According to USA Today's database, just eight Division I schools don't subsidize their athletics departments. Even perennial powerhouses such as University of Michigan (also playing in this year's Final Four) and Indiana (a pre-tournament favorite) kick school funds towards their legendary sports teams. The USA Today list is limited to 225 state-supported schools because such colleges have to release relevant data. As USA Today notes, "the NCAA does not release the data publicly." Why would it, especially if it shows a similar pattern to the one observed in the USA Today data?

Proponents of pushing piles of money at college sports programs typically argue that sports programs—at least, winning sports programs—contribute to a university's bottom line in two ways. First, there's the supposed "Flutie Effect," by which a good sports season or two (typically in football or men's basketball) will lead to an increase in the quantity and quality of applications in subsquent years. The phenomenon is named for Boston College's quarterback Doug Flutie, whose winning hail mary pass in a 1984 football game against the University of Miami supposedly jacked up Boston College's fortunes. Sports teams, in other words, act as recruitment tools. The second argument is that sports programs keep alumni and other donor dollars flowing in. While both of these ideas makes some intuitive sense, neither turns out to be true.

In 2004, a Knight Commission study "concluded any links to football and men's basketball victories and increased applications and the SAT scores of the applicants 'is small and not significantly different from zero.'" A 2009 report by scholars at the Wharton School of Business and Virginia Tech conlcuded, "applications do rise from two to eight percent after football and men's basketball success, but 'the impact is often short-lived.'" When it comes to raking in alumni donors, the 2004 Knight Comission report found "The empirical literature seems to say that if the overall net effect of athletic success on alumni giving is positive, it is likely to be small." And then there's this possibility:

donations to athletics departments may cannibalize contributions to academic programs. As an April 2007 study in the Journal of Sport Management revealed, athletics departments between 1998 and 2003 received an increased share of gifts – from 14.7 percent to 26 percent—from university supporters even as overall giving to institutions was flat (Humphreys & Mondello, 2007). 

Will Wichita State sell more team merchandise this year (and next)? For sure. Will it get more applicants for a year or two, or even more? Probably. Will they be any better over the long haul than people who might have applied there anyway? Nope. And for the 99.9 percent of professors and students at Wichita State, will success in men's basketball mean that the school will up its game in academics? Again, nope. That sort of improvement only happens when a school focuses on research and education.

Schools as varied as Caltech, MIT, New York University, Missouri's Truman State, and College of New Jersey (formerly Trenton State) could tell you that if you want to improve your reputation and visibility among prospective students, faculty, and donors, you are far better off focusing on the academic side of things.

Over a decade ago, the libertarian Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman—who graduated from Rutgers back in 1932—signed on to the mission of a group called Rutgers 1000. Fronted by an English professor partial to bowties and nerdspeak, the group sought to cut the school's profligate spending on big-time athletics and focus instead on, you know, the research and education that seems to be more of a core function of an institution of higher learning. The cause was initially helped by Rutgers' reliably awful fortunes in football. After winning the very first college football game in 1869, it essentially lost every game it played since then before flourishing in the mid-Aughts.

In the late 1990s, Friedman pointed to schools who had ditched their sports programs—the University of Chicago was once a football powerhouseand yet continued to attract faculty, students, and donors by trading in academic excellence. In an advertisement that ran in the Rutgers Daily Targum, he said,

The proper role of athletic activity at a university is to foster healthy minds and healthy bodies, not to produce spectacles. Universities exit to transmit knowledge and understanding of ideas and values to students, and to add to the body of intellectual knowledge, not to provide entertainment for spectators or employment for athletes.

By the time, Friedman died in 2006, Rutgers was succeeding on the gridiron and any talk of walking off Division I playing fields had vanished to a whisper. Indeed, Friedman was even attacked at the website by Joseph Salerno for the the sin of wanting "to downgrade [Rutgers] sports programs and pour more taxpayer money down the rathole of politically correct 'educational programs.'"

But when you look at the Mike Rice case—and the vast amounts of student and tax-dollar money that is directed toward activities that have nothing to do with the core functions of colleges and universities—it's a good time to think about alternatives to the status quo.

I can't imagine current levels of spending surviving even casual scrutiny from parents, students, and taxpayers. Do folks paying for University of California at Riverside—an excellent school in a system which is basically imploding due to decades of fiscal mismanagement—know that students are shelling out $3.4 million in fees for a program that generates less than $100,000 a year in revenue and operates with an 85 percent subsidy? I'm guessing not.

Students at George Mason University—a school whose NCAA tournament run a few years back revived "Flutie Effect" commentary—are paying $12 million a year in fees for sports teams that are so unpopular that they sold just $692,000 in tickets last year. If George Mason applicants are getting better—and there's every indication they are—it's because of increasingly visible programs and scholars in economics, English, and other subjects and not because the Patriots made it to the Final Four in 2006.

Long after the Mike Rice controversy and firing is totally forgotten, students and taxapayers will likely still be on the hook to pay for college sports. Even those among us who totally dig college sports—and I know what I'll be watching come Saturday—would do well to think about Milton Friedman's thoughts regarding the role of athletics and education.

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  1. There are lots of schools that don’t have D1 sports programs or anything beyond club sports. If the students at WSU don’t like paying the fees, they can always go to Fort Hayes State or Emporia State. It is their college Nick. They like their sports programs.

    1. I agree. I this is a actually one of those “culture war” things. If you wanna talk about banning government spending on education, I’m willing to talk. I think in the aftermath of that decision, the big universities with D1 sports and lots of alumni loyalty would survive at a much higher rate than than those without.

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    2. I kinda wish I had gone to a school with a football team, but considering how little non-class things I did in college, it really wasn’t a big deal.

      1. At my college everyone tailgated without giving any shit whatsoever about the shitty team or the sport. The game would start, they would kick everybody out of the designated “student tailgating area”, and everyone would go get drunk and high somewhere else. A good bar event such as “Dollar Corona Can Day” would promote the same kind of community spirit.

    3. I don’t think student act fees are voluntary. They are charges whether you are a fan or not

      1. But they are not charged if you are not a student and no one forces anyone to attend a specific school, excepting maybe pushy parents, but it’s probably their money in that instance.

        1. There is not a lot of options for studying certain things like engineering because of the accreditation racket, and regulations that require someone to have a degree to do this or that. Subsidies for higher education cause a vaccuum that concentrates power among major schools- ones likely to have sports programs- and leaves low cost private colleges to shit like liberal arts.

        2. Then you must be in favor of public financing for pro sports stadiums, huh? After all, if you’re not a fan, and don’t want to ‘support’ the team, you can always move to another city.

          1. That would require you to do something you wouldn’t normally do to avoid a force-imposed tax.

            There is no force in athletic fees. Don’t like the price? Don’t buy the product.

      2. As John said, attending the school that you know has the fees is voluntary.

        1. But what about the taxpayers who are forced to subsidize the student loans that usually pay for those fees…and what about taxpayer funding of the university that often complements those fees?

          For christ’s sake the University that I work at is using taxpayer-subsidized student fees to have Macklemore perform at the end of the semester. That’s even more infuriating. Have you heard that guy? Whut whut whut whut…whut whut whut whut.

          1. You’re talking Gamecocks?

          2. That is a problem with taxpayer funding of universities and student loans not with college athletics.

            1. To some degree, yes, but to the extent that there is a case for taxpayer funding of universities, it’s extremely weak for taxpayer funding of athletics. There’s at least a semi-plausible case for societal benefits and spillover to education (though I can doubt whether it’s really larger than the private benefits and thus how much it needs subsidy, especially of the middle class).

          3. I actually like Macklemore. He performed at my school last year (not long before he blew up), but I go to a private school.

    4. I have a good test for this. Itemize out the fee the student pays each year and label it as “College Sports Subsidy.” Then make it voluntary. Next, you wait and see how many students actually pay it.

      1. Then don’t go to the schools that have sports.

    5. Can I live in a state that doesn’t subsidize college sports?

        1. Sorry, Somalia U (mascot = The Pirates) subsidizes their renowned crew teams

    6. Of course students can choose what schools to attend.

      But the idea that because the choice is voluntary there are no grounds to criticize policies or lobby for change hardly follows. Few people would agree, for instance, that since college is voluntary imposing repressive speech codes isn’t worth discussing. And I sincerely doubt that the massive sports fees are widely known by most students and parents.

      When I went to Rutgers (1981-85), you could opt out of paying for PIRG and the Daily Targum on your term bill. Why not the same for fees to subsidize varsity sports?

      1. I agree with this as well. It is certainly voluntary to say, shop at a store that supports X or Y policies, but that doesn’t mean we cannot criticize that store nonetheless.

  2. That’s a good picture of you back in your student days, Nick.

  3. Is university mandatory now?

    1. Tak Tak,

      Taxpayer funding of universities and students is mandatory…and a portion of that money goes to athletics. That is the problem.

      1. Yeah but that is a problem with taxpayer funding of the university as a whole not athletics in particular.

        1. One step at a time.

          1. And the first step is dealing with the tax payer funded loan program not forcing school to do anything.

          2. I would honestly get rid of public subsidized higher education first while letting public education through high school slide a little. The kind of influence the university system has over certain professions is disgusting.

          3. It’s not a step at all. The funds will just be spent elsewhere. It doesn’t reduce taxpayer theft.

      2. TomB,

        The athletics is the best part, I’d much prefer my money going to athletics than, say, the arts dept.

  4. Don’t mind Nick, he’s just settling in to being a grumpy old curmudgeon.

    1. While I can’t disagree with his points, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Damn kids and their sports.

  5. I’d also add that quite often college football and men’s basketball are net money earners. But certainly almost every other program is a net loss.

  6. The problem here Nick is that if you got rid of every sport but mens Basketball and Football most universities would see net income from their sports programs.

    The problem is not their basketball programs, it is the Field Hockey and Volleyball teams all of which earn basically $0 in revenue but still cost money.

    1. If only those damn wimminz would stay in the kitchen where they belonged!

      1. Well it’s not just the women, I mean there might be a couple of schools who make money off their baseball and Hockey programs but the overwhelming majority would be money losers and sports like track and field or Swimming are co-ed and all lose money as well.

        Hell when I was in College I was on the Bowling team, our expenses weren’t high, there were no coaches or Scholarships but we still got something like $10,000 a year to cover travel and tourney fees for a 12 person team (6 men, 6 women)

      2. is there a sport for sammich making?

    2. There is this big feminist elephant known as Title IX sitting in the corner.

    3. What’s the law that forces colleges to have equal men’s and woman’s teams?

  7. “Mike Rice was fired after video surfaced of the coach abusing his players”

    “But, says Nick Gillespie, college sports abuses virtually all students”

    Its kind of Huffington style “journalism” to make a point this way. Kind of like when progressives refer to lower tax rates as ‘subsidies’. Lets call screaming and physical harm ‘abuse’, and the college sports system ‘ripping off’.

  8. If Alabama could drop everything but Football, Softball, Gymnastics, and Women’s Golf, I wouldn’t really mind.

    And yep, this men’s basketball team is dead to me. DEAD!

    1. They might as well convert it to women’s football then, without all the pads and clothes and shit. I wish something like that existed.

      1. Adult women’s football has existed for many years now, and scantily-clad women’s football (Lingerie Football League) as well. I’m sure Alabama U. has a women’s rugby club.

    2. Caleb,
      You know b-ball fills the gap btwn football and spring football

      1. B-ball fills the gap between the last suckey coaching hire and the next suckey coaching hire.

  9. Seinfeld already covered this:…..443C4CDDD9

  10. I was glad to have Div-I sports at my school. Then again it was private so no taxpayer money involved.

  11. Town governments have subsidized public university sports facilities in the past. It could easily happen with a private university.

  12. I might be misunderstanding “””$3.4 million in fees for a program that generates less than $100,000 a year in revenue and operates with an 85 percent subsidy””” but 3.3M subsidy and .1M revenue for a budget of 3.4M is 97% subsidy.

    1. That is not including any Alumni donations and other revenue. I believe, based on context with the next example, that the $100,000 is just tickets.

  13. Let’s not forget about the 1975-1976 hoop Scarlet Knights. Didn’t they go to the final four with an unbeaten record?

  14. Nothing spells out “COME JOIN TEAM LIBERTY!!!” than arguing for banning college sports during March Madness.

    Well done.

    1. Technically, it’s April now.

  15. Good lord, it looks like someone mated an Uruk-Hai with a sea lion.

    1. Sauruman has been busy, yes?

  16. All I know is my school built a state of the art science library on campus rather than invest in a football program. If the money is going to be spent might as well spend it on something that promotes knowledge.

    1. Is it a laptop with an internet connection?

    2. The Nerds v. Jocks Culture War is really annoying.

      It turns out that as a former nerd, I find the nerds way more tendentious and irritating about it.

  17. Remember, sports build character.

    1. Makes you wonder how bad some of those guys would have turned out without them then.

    2. Jeff P.| 4.3.13 @ 5:39PM |#
      “Remember, sports build character.”
      Yep, Bob Knight is a shining example.

      1. He didn’t say a good character.

  18. What about my local tax money going to pay so that the University of Louisville, whose basketball program is already a cash cow, can have a sweet ass basketball arena?

    1. Woah, Cardinal hater! Why don’t you just go to Lexington and drink some Kentucky Ale while you’re at it?

    2. Well they have to, otherwise the team might move away.

  19. You know who else mandated youth participation in sports?

    1. John F. Kennedy?

    2. Todd Marinovich’s father?

    3. Socrates?

    4. Spring Creek Elementary School Gym Class?

  20. “Spending close to $30 million on sports is an odd way to signal that Rutgers’ core function is as a research university.”

    Does that not depend on what Rutgers total budget is? $30 million is a large sum of money, but there is no context provided and no talk about how much of the Athletics department’s budget is dedicated to maintaining the sports teams or athletic facilities that may be used by all students. Also, there is a dubious implication that athletics have nothing to do education, when there is a tradition in Western academia that healthy minds go hand in hand with healthy bodies.

    While the two major Division I sports to give a good impression of the tail wagging the dog, this article seems to have an axe to grind more than anything else.

    1. …there is a tradition in Western academia that healthy minds go hand in hand with healthy bodies.

      Lemme guess, you graduated college in 323 BC under the tutelage of Aristotle?

      College now is drinking, da foobal, da bastetbal, and da feminist marxism.

      Fucking tradition, my ass. Chuck the damn thing and start over.

    2. Rutgers total operating budget for 2012-2013 is $2.207 Billion.

      So, $30 million is obviously not a big percentage.

  21. Spending close to $30 million on sports is an odd way to signal that Rutgers’ core function is as a research university.

    Similarly, based on spending and compensation, Harvard is a hedge fund that operates a university for tax purposes.

  22. Good thing Rutgers basketball is such a powerhouse. Wait.

    In any case, I mightily enjoyed getting inebriated and yelling at my school’s teams. Then again I went to James Madison University, and we used everything as an excuse to get inebriated and yell.

  23. I just watched the Coach yelling at the players and conclude that the pussification of America is complete.

    “Oh NOES! He threw da bastebal at ’em!” *clutches pearls*

  24. I’m not sure how much stock to put into the USA Today report. Taking the University of Florida into account, they make $123.5M in revenue, spend $107.1M, and for some reason take in $4.4M of subsidies.

    I also don’t think these calculations take into account the $6M annual the the Athletic Association donates to the university general fund.(

    Even taking these numbers at face value, UF athletics is a net positive for the university of $1.6M per year.

  25. College athletics, you never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

    1. What about Congress?

  26. I always wondered if you could attract students and teachers by offering an Ivy League quality education without a campus environment? No dorms, no teams, no gyms, no swimming pools. Just teh book lernin.

    You could pump your money into quality profs and academics and I’ll bet you could reduce the cost of a quality education to the point where anyone could afford it.

    Think there would be demand for that?

    1. No chicks? No beer?

      Living with my parents?

      No Thanks!

      1. In a lot of other countries, most kids stay at home for college and everyone attends a school nearby. When I visited Buenos Aires last year on a school-sponsored trip, we met some kids from a local university, and they found it very interesting that we all lived away from home in dorms for the entire school year.

      2. Yeah, that’s the only reason I went to college. I regret how little I learned. Should wait till you’re 30 and married to get an education.

  27. Dude I never thought about it liek that. Wow.

  28. Tuition and fees paid by many students of particular departments subsidize a slew of money-losing academic departments and majors at most public universities of the various states.

    Where is the outrage at that practice, Nick Gillespie? Has wearing the Fonz’s jacket made you a sports-hating nerd hiding in toughie guy garb?

  29. Rice pushes, shoves, attacks, and calls players everything from “fucking faggots” to “motherfuckers” to “sissy bitches” to “cunts.”

    I’vr got to say, this changes my opinion regarding college athletes’ capacity for impulse control. I would have expected him to get his ass kicked for that kind of behavior.

    I remember when woody hayes ended his career by punching an opposing player… It always surprised me that the kid he attacked didn’t haul off and knock him out cold.


    1. I remember when woody hayes ended his career by punching an opposing player… It always surprised me that the kid he attacked didn’t haul off and knock him out cold.
      How old are you?

  30. Yeah, I enjoyed getting hazed at breakfast as a freshman at USAFA, escaping with a single bite of hash browns at times…only to see the freshmen football players eating to their hearts content. screw college sports, esp football.

    1. Ever seen the entourage that a General rolls with? That’s actually a great lesson about the military in general. Special people will get special treatment, everyone else will get their ass tickled by the long brass dildo.

  31. Think this is being overblown. Take the stated example of WS. The school budget is $251 million so that 6.5 million is.. 2.5% of the budget.

    Rutgers, your whipping boy, has an annual budget well in excess of $1.4 billion Even if every penny of that roughly $30 million school funded athletics came from just tuition type revenues, it would only be 3.5%.

    For Div 1 AA schools, such as those in the Patriot league, spending is on the order of 1% or less.

    Funding the athletics programs are not causing the astronomical rise in tuitions. While one can argue that the money might be better alotted among the various sports programs, the reality is it does provide an outlet for many students, both on the field and off.

  32. There are good arguments for abolishing varsity, JV, and frosh sports. This has not been one of them.


    1. Oh yes, anonybot, MENTOR ME TO FREEDOM!

  34. I’m curious what the breakdown between sports is. I’ll bet at some schools the football program pays for itself and a lot of other sports, and the school throws in more for those other sports.

    Some of this we can thank Title IX for, which made it so that schools either had to cut men’s sports, or pay for women’s sports that few people wanted to play and even fewer wanted to watch, and absolutely no one wanted to pay for.

  35. Nick: You leave out the big picture in your article. Rutgers made roughly 6.5 million dollars as part of the Big East last year. This meant the athletic program operates in the red. However, according to Sport Illustrated, by 2017, the television revenue alone for Rutgers in the Big 10 is going to be 40 million. Accordingly, this will help stabilize and reduce student fee’s and tuition for Rutgers students. So athletics and the big business of college sports can be a huge revenue stream for universities.

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  37. Just wanted to chime in that coaches like Rice are a lot more common than the armchair athletes like to believe. And one needn’t think these athletes need to be coddled or have a bleeding heart for them to think coaches like that have no excuse. Raving like a lunatic and throwing tantrums is not acceptable behavior, especially for an adult, and especially for ones who work with kids. In any other job, he would at least be fired, maybe even arrested.
    A 40-something is yelling at 20-year-olds like he is schizophrenic, and your concern is that the kids are too soft? How about that we ask our 20-something soldiers to keep cool while being shot at and having their friends killed, while it’s fine and dandy that a middle aged man flips out that a kid missed his defensive check down rotation? Give me a break!

  38. I kinda wish I had gone to a school with a football team, but considering how little non-class things I did in college, it really wasn’t a big deal.

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