Some critics of UMass think the university should follow the lead of UConn, its neighbor to the south, and invest more money in athletics to boost the school's profile. But as recent news out of Connecticut shows, that strategy can involve some significant costs.
UConn's athletic program has suffered a string of embarrassments lately. First, a major booster sent a rather unhinged letter asking for the school to return $3 million in donations he made to the football program since he wasn't treated with sufficient deference during the program's search for a new head coach. Then, the NCAA sanctioned the men's basketball team and coach Jim Calhoun over some extremely questionable recruiting practices.
But an argument could be made that the biggest recent scandal — the episode that tells us the most about the current, broken state of college sports — wasn't a scandal at all.
In December, the 8-4 Huskies made the Fiesta Bowl, marking the first time the program, which stepped up to Division I-A in 2000, made a BCS bowl. The team traveled to Arizona for the game, where it got roundly (and unsurprisingly) drubbed by traditional football powerhouse Oklahoma, 48-20.
For the privilege of playing in this meaningless game, UConn ended up losing around $1.6 million, the Hartford Courant reported this week, which a significant part of the cost coming from unsold tickets (if you want to better grasp the extent to which college football has become a cash cow, read the parts of the Courant story where the contractual obligations with regard to ticket sales are discussed). UConn, meanwhile, has been increasing tuition.
$1.6 million may not be a lot of money in the grand scheme of UConn's overall budget, but isn't it a lot for a non-profit educational institution to blow on a single football game? Something is very wrong with a system in which schools get punished for athletic success. If I were an administrator or student at UConn, the question I would be asking is: Who did profit off of the Fiesta Bowl?