#1 in Football and Basketball, But Left Behind in Research?

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Florida and Ohio State face off tonight in the Men's NCAA basketball championship, a re-match of January's national title game in football. Both schools feature the best athletics programs that money can buy, as they each spend an astounding $100 million dollars annually on their sports programs. Yet, as I wrote back in January, though these schools might be "turning pro" in athletics, they are quickly being left behind by the elite universities in terms of investment in science and research. Ohio State will invest more than $1 billion over the next ten years in athletics. In comparison, the University of California and SUNY systems, along with private institutions like Harvard and Cornell will invest billions in life sciences research, work that will create more than 10,000 new jobs in these states.

Could the fanaticism over sports at Ohio State and Florida actually be hurting the economy in those states?

Universities are supposed to be principally about educational pursuits, but sometimes its hard to know it when you consider the athletic apparatus at a place like OSU or Florida. Imagine if the money channeled into athletics could be put into student scholarships, endowed research chairs, faculty salaries, libraries, and research facilities?

In coming decades, the public face of elite universities like Berkeley (and OSU's rivals Michigan and Wisconsin), will be their scientists and world class students. In contrast, Ohio State and Florida will be branded by coaches like Jim Tressel and Billy Donovan.

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Something struck me in the international news recently.

It was reported that there is a $5,000,000 Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, said to be the largest award. (There is information in Wikipedia under the name "Mo Ibrahim".) It appeared in the news recently as Kofi Annan (former Secretary General of the UN) was announced as the chairman of the commitee.

The purse for the Dubai World Cup in horse racing is $6,000,000. (Wikipedia has an entry for it.)

Why does investing in athletics preclude academic investments? You seem to assume that because Ohio State and Florida have spent lots of money on sports they haven't spend much on research.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ohio State spent $518 million on science and engineering R&D in FY 2004. U of Florida spent $447 million. By comparison, the top spenders were Johns Hopkins at $1.375B, UCLA at $772M, Michigan at $769M. Stanford spent $671M and Harvard $454 million.

I agree with the post. And here is something for you, from a NYTimes editorial from last year:

The truth, laid out in recent reports, is quite to the contrary. Only a handful of high-end college sports programs earn more than they spend. Among the rest, many struggle to balance their budgets and can do so only through subsidies from their universities. Sports budgets are growing two to three times faster than higher education as a whole.

The whole text is here.