The athletic arms race: money, money and more money

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December 6, 2012 by kujhawk

By Evan Dunbar

It was during this summer’s two-a-days that Kara Wehrs first knew this season was going to be a special one for the Jayhawk volleyball team. So many starters were returning to a team whose success seemed so close a year ago.

After a strong preseason and non-conference schedule, the wins faded in Big 12 conference play last year, with the Jayhawks going just 3-13 and finishing the season with a 15-14 record. But Wehrs said the mindset of this year’s team was just a little bit different from those of recent teams.

“From the beginning we knew,” Wehrs said. “We knew what we needed to work on and from the beginning we looked good. We thought, ‘Hey, this is our year.’”

She was right. This fall, the Jayhawks had their best season in school history, finishing the regular season at 25-6 and third in the Big 12 – setting single-season records for winning percentage and conference finish. The team set a record for games won at home. It led the conference with eight of its players receiving Big 12 All-Academic First Team honors

The dream run ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament with a loss to Wichita State last Saturday, but Wehrs said that despite the abrupt end to the season, the success of this year’s team has given the program more perks and more exposure to fans. Wehrs said there is now talk about an expansion of their gym in the Horejsi Athletics Center to accommodate increased attendance at games.

Better performance, more money?

However, a gym expansion seems like a reach when you look at how much the university is spending on the volleyball team. According to the Office of Postsecondary Education, the Kansas volleyball team’s game-day expenses are $264,064. This may seem like a large number, but it pales in comparison to the $2,032,546 spent by the football team, or the $1,214,664 spent by the women’s basketball team.

Therein lies the dilemma that institutions run into when managing their athletic programs. How much money should different programs get from the university? When the women’s volleyball team is making the NCAA tournament, but the football team is going 1-11 each season, should the amount of money a team gets be based on their performance on the field or court the previous season? Wehrs thinks so.

“If we win a tournament, we should definitely get more money,” Wehrs said. “It shouldn’t matter what team it is, if they are doing well, they should receive more money and the coach should get a raise.”

However, if spending continues to increase, professors like Angela Lumpkin say that intercollegiate athletics will negatively affect universities trying too hard to compete.

The vicious circle

Lumpkin, Professor of Health, Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Kansas says that the mindset of more, more, more is what’s hurting college athletics around the country.

“As soon as more grants-in-aid became involved in college athletics, instantly, there was a change in attitude to ‘what have you done for me lately,’” Lumpkin said. “I think that is characteristic of the over-commercialization of intercollegiate athletics.”

The “what have you done for me lately” attitude is something Wehrs says is already in the minds of the players returning to next year’s team.

“If we don’t prove that we’re as good this next year, we think everyone is kind of going to be disappointed,” Wehrs said. “We set the standard, and we have to go out and achieve and pass that next year.”

With this attitude in the minds of players and coaches, it becomes hard for universities to put an equal amount of funding into academics, a point that educators like Lumpkin are saying is becoming harder to ignore.

Lumpkin recently published a paper outlining 14 recommendations for stopping the abuse of student athletes at the division 1 level. She says that college athletics should never be about getting more gear and apparel, and that schools are now in an “arms race” to have the best facilities and spend the most money to try and have the best teams.

“In the arms race it becomes an entrapment game,” Lumpkin said. “Every year there are the top-10 teams, and at the end of the season, there are still just 10. You may spend money and move into the rankings one year, but someone else is going to spend more money and knock you out the next year. It’s a vicious circle.”

Money well-spent? 

But when the extra money is spent for the student-athletes’ benefit, does it become justifiable? Wehrs says that the volleyball team was able to take more charter flights to weekday road games this season, helping the girls get back home quicker after matches and preventing missed classes.

“It was nice being able to have a charter [flight] for some of our road games,” Wehrs said. “Usually when we take a bus we are forced to miss some class, and that can make school tough on us.”

Lumpkin’s answer to that is simple – play games on the weekends. She says the extra money that is wasted on things like flights for the volleyball team could be better-spent in other areas.

“I wish the bulk of that was put into giving them a grant-in-aid so that they would not need to feel like they had a job, or had to get a job to pay their educational expenses,” Lumpkin said. “I think a lot less money should be spent on each athlete.”

As the debate continues about how to best manage the growing commercialism of college athletics, it is important to remember that it is just a game, and these athletes are not professionals.

“Athletic departments are operating as businesses,” Lumpkin said. “It’s just way out-of-bounds. I don’t want to end intercollegiate athletics, but I do think we need to rein them in.”


For full transcript, click here 

Athletic Subsidies: A drain on a university?

Description: As universities continue to pour money into their athletic programs, the amount of subsidies – the money that comes from student fees and other university funds – continues to increase. To see how KU compares, here is the list of the Big 12 public schools’ athletic expenditures along with how much of that is subsidized by each university.

If you would like to email me about anything I’ve written, you can do so by emailing me at or contact me on twitter @Ev_Dunbar. I would love feedback and advice on what I can do better or what I should be doing more or less of!


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