8.10.10

THE BRAIN COACHES ARE OFF-BUDGET. University Diaries links without comment to an Oregonian investigation of a Nike Ducks claim to have a self-sufficient athletics program.

For the better part of a decade, University of Oregon officials have touted the athletic department's economic self-sufficiency, a rarity in the world of big-time college sports. But for at least nine years, athletics has used hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from the university's general fund to cover the cost of academic support for athletes, according to files obtained by The Oregonian.

The general fund has paid nearly $8.5 million over the past nine years for academic support for athletes, which includes exclusive tutoring and counseling, increasing sixfold from less than $300,000 in 2002-03 to a budgeted $1.8 million this academic year.

The qualifier, exclusive tutoring and counseling, means Oregon is not hiding the costs of its brain coaches in the budget for university-wide access-assessment-remediation-retention, a more clever way of burying the incremental costs of big time sports.

The article includes a defense of the creative accounting that only an academic administrator could love.

Jim Bean, Oregon's senior vice president and provost, who also oversees academic support for athletes, said it is appropriate for the university to pay for academic support for athletes, and honest for the school to maintain that athletics is self-sufficient despite that support.

"I actually insist that that be funded from the academic side to make sure that we have the right academic control," said Bean, who oversees academic support for athletes.

Bean said that because a large majority of Oregon athletes come from out of state, the athletic department pays more tuition for them on average than the average non-athlete student pays, effectively offsetting the cost of athletes' academic support.

The logic of out-of-state tuition rates has always been to cover the fully allocated cost at standard volume of educating a student. There is probably a cost allocation formula under which money transferred from the athletic department to the bursar as tuition is divided in such a way as to cover the full cost of the athletic department's brain coaches. It's easy enough to equate full cost to incremental cost or to assert that some incremental costs are zero, thus Mr Bean is probably able to sleep with a clear conscience.

The article contrasts Oregon's policy with those at Michigan and Kentucky, where the athletic department budget includes the brain coaches.

The error is in treating some incremental costs as zero. Brain coaches exist inter alia to solicit progress reports from professors. These progress reports might be paper forms for professors to fill in, or they might be stored on a secure server that professors log onto to file reports. Professors are not compensated for filling in these forms. Keeping the basketball team eligible is therefore a subsidy from the faculty to the athletic department. Time spent filling in forms is time not spent on grading or class preparation or keeping current or proving a theorem or perhaps attempting to carve an hour or two of private time out of a 55 - 60 hour week of too much form filling.

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