They’re the only professors who consistently attack big-time university football. Almost all other professors, from other departments, keep their traps shut; but there’s always some guy in economics shooting off his mouth. Let’s analyze a recent letter to the local paper from a University of Colorado econ professor – James Markusen – and see why this is.


The news that [head football coach Mike] MacIntyre just got a $16.5 million contract for five years passed with a shrug, so I’ll provide some background (all verifiable). [That parenthesis tells you all you need to know. Econ people are rationalists, and they tend to think other people are basically rational too. They tend to think that if you offer a verifiable, evidence-based argument about something, the evidence will count for something by way of convincing people in a certain direction. Even given prevailing social/political conditions in America, where all copies of George Orwell’s 1984 are currently sold out, econ people cling to the belief in rational suasion.] His yearly salary is what a top (not average) science professor earns in 22 years, or, the five-year total is what a top professor could earn in 110 years. Economists (my department) are among the highest-paid faculty. It takes a top economist only 16 years to earn MacIntyre’s annual salary, or a mere 80 years for his five-year total. [Here we’re getting at one of the reasons the econ department does the heavy sports lifting – they actually understand numbers. Yet the dolts who read this will say one thing and one thing only in response, and it’s a response UD has seen for decades: Markusen’s jealous! He wants to make $16.5 million! Shouldn’t he be happy with his cushy no-work academic job which gives him long summers, one course a semester (taught by TA’s) and a healthy salary? Fuck him.]

What is discouraging and deliberately ignored by university officials is that we now have extensive evidence [There’s that pointless evidence dealie again.] that explodes long-held myths about sports and universities. Rigorous and dispassionate statistical studies [Yawn. Pathetic.] show that successful sports teams do not generate financial donations to universities: added contributions are directed almost exclusively to the athletic department itself. [UD‘s been making that point forever. The whole increased contributions to universities thing turns out to be increased contributions almost exclusively to athletics.] Yet with only a couple of exceptions, NCAA Division I athletic departments like ours consistently lose very large sums of money which ultimately have to be paid for by students and their parents in higher tuition fees. To the latter: You might enjoy the game, but you’re paying a hell of a lot more than you think. References available on request. [Let me be clear about the pointlessness of all the perfectly solid points he’s making. He’s talking to a cultist. A desperate, inebriated cultist.]

I’ll end with one more thought. Economics is one of the most popular majors at CU. In 26 years of teaching economics at CU, I have had exactly one football player in one class. I have never had a basketball player of either gender, never had a volleyball player, never had a soccer player. In addition to our impressive inventory of evidence on sports funding, we could use a dispassionate and analytical study evaluating the reality or myth of the student-athlete. [Of course, we don’t need such a study. No one gives a shit about what its obvious conclusions are going to be. If they did, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Baylor University and the University of Nebraska and the University of Louisville etc. etc. would temporarily cease operations in order to figure out how to reconstitute themselves as actual schools. No argument will stop what’s happening with university football; what will alter the picture is the fact of legions of people deciding not to attend games. As the games become televised simulacra with empty stands, people will eventually begin to notice, and questions will start to be asked. Until then, no rigorous dispassionate evidence-based jobbie will make any difference. Trust me.]

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3 Responses to “UD Salutes Econ Professors.”

  1. dmf Says:

    seems to have left out of his analysis the massive cuts in state funding that would happen in places like Nebraska if they cut their football ties…

  2. charlie Says:

    dmf, or the fall in out of state enrollment if networks didn’t broadcast your college’s football games. why any uni would admit someone on their campus based on watching tv is a question for the sociology department….

  3. Stephen Karlson Says:

    I’m a little bit familiar with Markusen’s work, it’s solid stuff, and he’s a good ally to have in this scrap.

    At my former employer, Northern Illinois, I had a few football, women’s volleyball players and swimmers in introductory classes, they mostly acquitted themselves well, but, yes, the power conferences have their eligibility studies degrees and others with better investigative chops than I can do that story.

    My one quibble is with his salary comparisons, the risk-reward profile for coaches might not be several orders of magnitude in payoff to successful coaches, compared to that of professors, where the tournament market hasn’t yet caught on. (Tenure, where it’s still a possibility, changes the risk-reward profile further.)

    That noted, there might be universities looking to get out of the positional arms race in sports, particularly as the trappings of a successful program (Jumbotrons! Private dorms! Exclusive training facilities!) start running into the money.

    A footnote: the recently completed program prioritization at Northern Illinois did suggest reduced funding for sports. That might be relief to students, who are getting hit with a big athletics fee. In exchange, they get complimentary admission to games.

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