College athletics sold its soul 20 years ago, which is why its athletes should go ahead and squeeze

08/18/2014 8:02 PM

11/12/2014 7:55 PM

Shortly after he became the president of Baylor University, one of the first pieces of advice Ken Starr received was from a prominent member of the school’s board of regents.

Starr was told the key to building a great school was to “win football games.”

Only in America does this make perfect sense.

From Georgetown to Colgate to Michigan to Texas, ballgames are the best way to build an institution of higher learning.

Since Starr took over in June 2010, Baylor has won football games. The Bears are 36-16 the past four years.

Bet every dollar you have ever had and will have that Baylor’s donations and applications are at an all-time high in these past four years.

This week, Baylor opens its latest toy, the $250 million McLane Stadium, where fans can watch in great comfort big games against Northwestern State, Lamar and Incarnate Word, among others.

This is no knock on Baylor — OK, playing Incarnate Word is embarrassing — because this is a pandemic of priority-skewed spending on a generation that has shown no interest in a cure. And since there is no cure and we clearly do not care, all parties involved should be in on the squeeze.

College administrators at the schools that participate in this madness can no longer say it’s about education after they announce fundraising plans for sports facilities that are more costly than anything associated with higher learning.

College coaches and athletic directors can no longer defend a model that does not include increased compensation for the athlete-students while they attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for another facility that is barely used.

This is the pinnacle of having it both ways.

To pay student-athletes is a Pandora’s Box that will eventually lead to the elimination of more non-revenue sports from Division I programs, but I can no longer rationalize the ancient amateur model when everything around it is professional.

It is 2014 and a new part of the Great American Way is to squeeze whomever before they do it — or as they are doing it — to you.

Of course the cost of a scholarship is worth $250K at some schools, but the American Way is to squeeze for more.

College athletes, whether it’s the starting quarterback at Texas or the women’s golfer at North Texas, are silly not to demand an increased cut, priorities and consequences be damned.

Since the mid-1990s college athletics has been about revenues, leaving universities exposed to this inevitable cash-grab by the athlete-students.

It won’t be too long before Texas A&M is done with its $450 million face-lift to Manziel Field. This is after SMU, North Texas, TCU, Houston, Texas, Texas Tech all poured in millions for new or improved football facilities.

Since 2000, the state of Texas has seen eight venues built or remodeled at a cost of more than $1 billion. You would think that at that cost they would be open 24/7/365. These eight venues are open roughly, maybe, 10 days a year each.

Only in America do we spend hundreds of millions of dollars on venues we barely use, and it makes perfect sense.

This price tag does not include the costs of other new facilities, salaries for coaches, raises for assistants and increased support staff. The University of Texas spent $13 million to change football staffs earlier this year, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

We talk about the importance of math and science, but priorities can be easily evaluated in how you spend your money. Math and science are important, but winning football games in a nice stadium is more important because it’s more fun.

Today’s big-time Division I athlete-student cannot worry if the athletic department will go broke or sweat whether their potential increased compensation will jeopardize the future of the softball team or any other non-revenue sport. This is America, and we no longer worry about the next 10 years but rather what will happen in the next 10 months. This is the YOLO generation.

Thirty years ago, it would have been preposterous to think a university was built on the back of a winning football team. Today it makes perfect sense.

Twenty years ago, it would have been preposterous to spend nearly $500 million on a face-lift for a college football stadium. Today it makes perfect sense.

This is how you build an institution of higher learning.

About Mac Engel

Mac Engel

@macengelprof

Since 1998 Mac Engel has covered the Texas Rangers, the Dallas Stars, the Dallas Cowboys, colleges, high schools, the Olympics, women's basketball, even amateur women's judo. He has wasted more brain space on local sports than a human should. And he's a big fan of talking about it.

Email Mac at tengel@star-telegram.com | Read The Big Mac Blog

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