John Drescher, Raleigh News & Observer

Hazards, benefits of college sports programs

September 3, 2011

Cars. Cash. Prostitutes. Academic fraud. Scandal after scandal in college sports threaten the integrity of universities and the jobs of the people who run them.

Yet UNC Charlotte will start playing football in two years. A committee at Appalachian State has recommended the Mountaineers move to the top level of college football.

Why? Because for universities, the benefits outweigh the costs, says Charles Clotfelter, a Duke University economist who has taken a clear-eyed view of big-time sports in higher education.

Continue reading “John Drescher, Raleigh News & Observer”

Thad Williamson, Independent Weekly

A Duke economist examines the costs and benefits of big-time college sports

August 31, 2011

Thad Williamson

Is big-time college football good for society? That is, in essence, the question posed by Charles Clotfelter’s remarkably well-timed book, Big-Time Sports in American Universities, published last spring. Clotfelter is an economics professor at Duke University, and he utilizes the tools of that trade, as well as creative research strategies, to document the costs and benefits of college sports and tensions between the entertainment wing and academic mission of major universities.

That said, this book is not the book you might be expecting. It is not a moralistic condemnation of big-time college football and basketball. Indeed, one of Clotfelter’s aims is to show why so many universities have embraced the seemingly alien realm of competitive sports, and why so few, once in the game, ever get out of it.

Continue reading “Thad Williamson, Independent Weekly”


Charles Clotfelter, “Big-Time Sports in American Universities”

Author of "Big-Time Sports in American Universities"


The United States is the only country with universities that participate in what amounts to commercial sports entertainment.

Why this happened in America and not elsewhere is interesting to contemplate. James Michener called it a “quirk of history.” But what is relevant for our time is the unshakable hold that big-time sports continues to have over the universities that engage in it.

For almost a century, big-time college sports has been a wildly popular but consistently problematic part of American higher education. The challenges it poses to traditional academic values have been recognized from the start, but they have grown more ominous in recent decades, as cable television has become ubiquitous, commercial opportunities have proliferated, and athletic budgets have ballooned.

The book asks two questions. Why do universities play big-time football and basketball? And: Is it good for them or not?

Continue reading “ROROTOKO”

Ken Armstrong, The Seattle Times

‘Big-Time Sports in American Universities’: weighing why universities embrace and encourage major sports programs

May 21, 2011

Duke University professor Charles T. Clotfelter’s book “Big-Time Sports in American Universities” is a delightful guide to and analysis of the intersection between America’s major universities and their big-time sports programs.

For the average reader, this book may seem unlikely to entice. The title is functional (but dull); the author is an economist (oh, dear Lord); the publisher is a scholarly press (before cracking the cover, brew lots of coffee).

But a funny thing happens on the path through all those scatter diagrams, fever charts and the occasional reference to contingent valuation or marginal revenue product. Charles Clotfelter, a Duke University professor, proves to be a delightful guide on a quest to answer two questions: Why do so many universities embrace big-time sports? And what are the consequences? Continue reading “Ken Armstrong, The Seattle Times”

Fred Barnes, The Wall Street Journal

Calculating the Score

April 23, 2011

Pity the poor presidents of colleges with major athletic programs. Football coaches are not just better known than the administrators, the coaches also tend to make a lot more money. And professors lag even further behind. In 1986, the presidents at 44 public universities with teams in the five most established athletic conferences actually made, on average, a little more than their coaches: $294,000 for the presidents, $273,000 for the coaches; full professors earned about $107,000. By 2010, the professors’ income, adjusted for inflation, had climbed 32%. University presidents’ pay had gone up 90%. The football coaches’ pay jumped to more than $2 million—it had “increased by an astounding seven and a half times,” Charles T. Clotfelter writes in “Big-Time Sports in American Universities.” Mr. Clotfelter cites coaches’ contracts packed with incentives: Nick Saban’s 2010 agreement with the University of Alabama, for instance, included bonuses of $125,000 for winning the Southeastern Conference championship and $200,000 for taking the Crimson Tide to a BCS bowl game. The book offers plenty of other eye-opening statistics but is perhaps most surprising in its even-handed approach to the subject of major college athletics. Continue reading “Fred Barnes, The Wall Street Journal”

Nick Infante, College Athletic Clips

If I ever wanted to educate a person who knew nothing at all about big-time sports in American universities (and there are plenty of them out there, namely 6.86 billion non-Americans on the globe, and maybe a stray Martian or two), I would start them off with Charles Clotfelter’s book, Big-Time Sports in American Universities.

And why? Well, the book provides an impressively comprehensive narrative of the history of big-time college athletics, the good and bad associated with it, insights into reform efforts and analyses of various aspects of the ever-rising commercialism associated with big-time college sports.

Continue reading “Nick Infante, College Athletic Clips”

Charles Clotfelter On Big-Time Sports In American Universities

This post was originally published in The Faculty Lounge

Regular Lounge readers have heard me discuss before my seminar on Taboo Trades and Forbidden Markets.  Although markets in human organs, sex work, commercial surrogacy, and the like are probably more standard fare in a course of this nature, I think that college athletics and amateurism also have a place, and I normally spend some time each semester on college sports (plus, it’s the Durham-Chapel-Hill area, what do you expect?)

This year I struck gold because my colleague, Charles Clotfelter, has a fascinating new book coming out in the next few months with Cambridge University Press, Big-Time Sports in American Universities.  And last week he visited my seminar to discuss his book, which he’s spent years researching. Continue reading “Charles Clotfelter On Big-Time Sports In American Universities”