The Martin Center's Jody Lipford looks at the parlous state of varsity sports outside of the power conferences.
First, colleges and universities vary significantly in the amount of institutional funds that go to subsidize college athletics, and second, the colleges and universities that provide the highest institutional subsidies to college athletics are far too often schools that serve a student population that faces the greatest academic challenges and financial need.
That describes the Mid-American conference.

Look to the power conferences, though, and you see a positional arms race leading to mutual ruination.
Large flagship state universities are home to athletic departments that in many cases are successful on the field and court— and at the cash register. Teams from these schools often play in bowl games and receive bids to the NCAA basketball tournament. They typically draw heavily at the gate and earn millions more from lucrative television contracts. Athletic departments at six large schools in our sample of 203 earned revenues that exceeded their costs and did not receive any transfer of institutional funds. Even if athletic programs at large schools run a deficit, it tends to be small and is spread over a large population of students, making the subsidy per student trivial.
So much for running the athletics program like a business. We don't even have to get into the eligibility studies majors or any of the more subtle stuff.
The story is quite different for small state schools. With fewer bowl and tournament appearances, a smaller, less enthusiastic fan base, and fewer media dollars, the athletic departments at these schools generate far less revenue and fund a larger share of their budget from institutional resources. Given that these schools have fewer students, the yearly subsidy tends to be much larger per student.

Our second finding, when we examine what kind of students attend which schools, illuminates how the conventional wisdom breaks down. We found that students who are less prepared academically and who have fewer financial resources are more likely to attend smaller institutions, where the subsidy to athletics is much larger.
Yes, but the compass direction Michigan publics have to have that football to distinguish themselves from the river valley Michigan publics because something.

Not good enough, Ms Lipford argues.
We do not contest the common assertion that college sports provide educational opportunities to countless student-athletes who may not have such opportunities without them. We do, however, argue that this assertion—and the endorsement of college sports that accompanies it—loses its luster when confronted with the truth that at small schools, these opportunities are disproportionately paid for by non-athletes. In addition, a greater proportion of students at these schools lack the skills to succeed in the classroom or the dollars to pay the bursar. Resources have alternative uses, and resources devoted to athletics could be channeled to academic support or lower tuition bills, especially today when the high cost of a college education and heavy student debt loads are being questioned.

College athletics surely gives to some, but it assuredly takes from others as well. Parents, students, and the public are typically unaware that the educational opportunities heralded by the NCAA and athletic supporters come at a cost—a cost often paid by non-athletes, many of whom face significant academic challenges and have substantial financial need. The perception about the link between college sports and educational opportunity may be true—but only halfway.
Visibility on weeknight football at the expense of the academic programs is a bad tradeoff, and possibly unsustainable.

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