As a leading economist of education, Charles T. Clotfelter has brought data-driven analysis to many key topics surrounding American schools and colleges: the impact of K-12 desegregation, teacher compensation, federal tax policy and charitable giving, and cost escalation in higher education, among many others. Yet he, like many other social scientists, had until recently largely ignored a highly visible element of today’s (and yesterday’s, for that matter) campus environment: the highly commercialized endeavor of big-time athletics. Continue reading “Inside Higher Ed”
In Big-Time Sports in American Universities, a new book out from Cambridge University Press, Charles T. Clotfelter examines what some describe as the outsize role athletics plays on many American campuses. Below, the Duke University professor of public policy, economics, and law answers a few of our questions about his work.
You’ve written about school desegregation, the growth of state lotteries, and the rising price of college. What about college sports attracted your attention?
Like a lot of Americans, I have been a fan of college sports from early on, so it was second-nature to me that people might get very invested in the fortunes of college teams. What I did not expect, before I took my first faculty position, was that college sports would be a subject of such intense interest among otherwise serious and studious professors. I began to realize the powerful hold that big-time college sports has on people, and universities, is one of those “ever-present but overlooked” aspects of life that social scientists are taught to look out for. Continue reading “The Chronicle of Higher Education”
It’s Madness as universities play for pay
March 11, 2011 By Charles T. Clotfelter
DURHAM Buckle up. It’s almost time for that annual 21-day wild ride known as “March Madness,” a media event so lucrative that the name is actually trademarked. For three weeks, millions of Americans will talk nonstop about brackets, seeds and upsets, and then remain glued to their TVs or computer screens to see how their predictions hold up.
This 68-team NCAA tournament is a spectacular illustration of why commercialized sports, with all its problems, has an unshakeable hold on American higher education, and why universities do little to rein in its influence.
Universities with big-time sports are like the man in the old joke who complains that his brother thinks he’s a chicken. Asked why he doesn’t have the brother committed, the man explains, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Like this man, these universities choose to live with the contradictions inherent in big-time college sports rather than get out of the game.
For the past three years, I have been researching how and why big-time sports has become so deeply embedded in many American universities. Not surprisingly, I found that sports often dwarfs the intellectual side of universities. For instance, I looked at news coverage of 58 universities with leading athletics programs. Of the 600 articles that appeared over a year in The New York Times, 87 percent were about sports. Continue reading “It’s Madness as universities play for pay”
“This is a remarkable book. Charles Clotfelter uses the tools of policy economics (tools that he wields with the best of them) to shed light on one of the most vexing issues in higher education: Why do so many excellent universities devote so much money and attention to big-time intercollegiate sports? He presents surprising facts and original analyses, makes persuasive proposals for change, and delivers the package with an unusual and welcome combination of wit and rigor. This is must reading for university administrators, and flat out fun reading for all who are interested in universities or intercollegiate athletics.” – Paul N. Courant, University of Michigan
“A fascinating, insightful discussion of the arms race that is big-time intercollegiate athletics. Clotfelter clarifies how this parallel universe in large universities exists essentially independent of faculty or administrative control, being instead the creature of powerful self-perpetuating groups of ‘boosters.’ The convincing, novel demonstration of the role of tax subsidies in supporting these operations should raise every reader’s blood pressure.” – Daniel S. Hamermesh, University of Texas at Austin
“Charles Clotfelter has provided a valuable and remarkably well-researched assessment of the role of ‘big-time’ college athletics in American higher education. Bringing to bear his considerable experience in economic and social policy, he has provided an unusually well-balanced analysis of the pros and cons of including this form of commercial entertainment as a university mission, thereby resulting in a book that is an important and fascinating addition to this highly controversial subject.” – James J. Duderstadt, President Emeritus,University of Michigan
“This book offers an excellent discussion of the role of big-time athletics on university campuses today. Instead of either lambasting varsity athletics across the board or celebrating them uncritically, Clotfelter’s persuasive data, thoughtful analysis, and balanced treatment make a strong case for acknowledging athletics as an integral part of life on many campuses and dealing straightforwardly with both the problems and the benefits this entails.” – Nannerl O. Keohane, Princeton University, Former President, Duke University
“With his book Big-Time Sports in American Universities, Charles Clotfelter has done those of us who care about balancing the mission of higher education institutions with the impact of high-level college athletics an enormous favor. Providing great insights and careful analysis, Dr. Clotfelter reveals both the rationale behind ‘big-time’ sports programs at American universities and the consequences – good and ill – that follow. Hopefully, this fresh look at a decades-old (and uniquely American) issue will encourage and guide the on-going reform efforts aimed at finding the right balance in the costs and benefits of big-time college sports.” – William Kirwan, Chancellor, University System of Maryland
“Charles Clotfelter offers an original, informative perspective on a question that has confounded scholars of sports: Why are American universities uniquely devoted to providing big-time sports entertainment? This book is crammed with new facts and analysis about intercollegiate sports, and it offers fresh insights into why college sports programs sometimes are out of control even in elite universities.” – Roger Noll, Stanford University