Twisted logic, example one

Nothing like a little misplaced righteous anger to get the day started:

“On an ethical level, it is preposterous, if not heinous, to have the football and basketball coach paid several times as much as the university president,” says Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who is considered an expert on the economy of sports. “What message does that send to the students about the priorities of the school or the society?”

Andrew, I’ll get back to you about that when ESPN signs a deal to broadcast faculty meetings.

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29 Comments

Filed under It's Just Bidness

29 responses to “Twisted logic, example one

  1. Randall

    Or any school can fill an 80,000+ seat stadium to watch an accounting lecture

  2. opsomath

    Nice one, Senator. You’d think an economist would understand supply and demand.

  3. NCT

    Exactly. Call me when the Ivy League gets a multi-billion dollar deal from WGBH to air academic symposia. It’s less the message being sent as it is the one being heard.

  4. NCT

    erm … than it is the one being heard. Sorry.

  5. The Realist

    “What message does that send to the students about the priorities of the school or the society?”

    Our society values entertainment. If you want to make millions, you could be on Wall Street, or you could be a successful head coach. Either way, you are profiting of the backs of the middle class who are paying your way. So, what’s the difference, really?

    • If you want to make millions, you could be on Wall Street, or you could be a successful head coach.

      And Urban Meyer had a much better year for those who paid the freight than Bernie Madoff did.

  6. baltimore dawg

    but you all are ignoring the key part of this quotation: “on an ethical level, . . .”

    unless you’re willing to say that the core mission of institutions of higher education is to field athletics teams, then i don’t see how anyone can claim that there isn’t a basic ethical question about compensation disparities.

    • bd, you can’t be a little bit pregnant.

      If you want that big TV check from CBS/Disney and you want those donors ponying up, then coaching’s gonna cost you.

      If you want to stay purer, join the Ivy League.

  7. Hackerdog

    Why don’t we hear the blustering about actors? Lindsay Lohan made $7.5 million making “Just My Luck” in 2006, which is more than any university coach or president. She made more than the president of the United States did.

  8. baltimore dawg

    all due respect senator, you’re still missing the point. just because the integrity of higher education gets compromised in all kinds of ways all the time doesn’t mean we have to shut down conversation about ethics or mock those who raise it as a point–as your original post does.

    and it’s too simple to say that you have to be the university of tennessee or the university of chicago (which i realize is not an ivy but which i take to be at the opposite end in terms of athletics). and it’s too simple to suggest that any institution that does generate revenue through athletics must abandon all pretense of notions like “integrity” and “ethics,” because that seems to be what you’re saying, and i’ve come to expect better from this blog.

    • and it’s too simple to suggest that any institution that does generate revenue through athletics must abandon all pretense of notions like “integrity” and “ethics,” because that seems to be what you’re saying, and i’ve come to expect better from this blog.

      bd, that’s not what I’m saying at all.

      I’m suggesting that using the pay of a school president vs. that of a football head coach as a metric to judge the integrity of an academic institution is a shallow and ultimately worthless measure.

      Look, there are inevitable compromises with its academic mission that any university makes in the context of college athletics. Most of the time we live with them; sometimes **Jim Harrick**cough** we don’t. In my mind this compensation issue ranks waaaay down on that list in terms of significance.

      I’m sorry, but when I hear an academic point to this as evidence of a lack of ethics, my first thought is sour grapes. Like it or not, these salaries are a reflection of the value that our society puts on sports these days. The law of supply and demand isn’t unethical; it’s efficient. For someone like Zimbalist to pretend otherwise is dishonest. After all, not all school presidents or similarly tenured professors are paid the same amount, even though I assume their respective primary missions are the same. Is there something unethical about that?

      It would be one thing if he were pointing to schools that were taking money away from the academic side and using it to fund athletics. That would be an indication of a lack of integrity with regard to a school’s primary mission. But he’s offering that comment in the context of Tennessee. Whatever sins you want to lay at the feet of the Vols, that school hasn’t been robbing the academic Peter to pay the sports Paul. Quite the contrary, in fact. And that’s why I can’t take his comment as seriously as he’d like.

  9. NCT

    If there were such a thing as “The University of Georgia budget” out of which came the salaries of the president, faculty, coaches, etc., then I would be sympathetic to an ethical problem with relative pay. But there’s not. Are things a bit out of whack? Sure. I’m a bit troubled by the fact that my alma mater is a host institution for a multi-million dollar entertainment company. But compensation disparity is not a matter of ethics.

  10. NM

    Given that most university presidents are glorified fundraisers that have little day-to-day responsibility, I’m not sure why I should care.

    Also, isn’t it a bit perverse that this guy — a professor who seems to spend most of his time studying sports and maybe teaching a class or two to 15-20 smart, wealthy students — probably makes three to four times the pay of an inner city high school teacher who’s trying to get 100 or more extremely challenging students just a little closer to high school graduation? I’ll listen a little more when he takes a pay cut himself.

  11. Pete Holiday

    but you all are ignoring the key part of this quotation: “on an ethical level, . . .”

    On an “ethical” level? Really? What, precisely, is unethical about paying a coach more than the university president?

    Even if we want to pretend like a university’s sole mission is to cram information into the heads of 20-somethings (which it’s not), I fail to see how the salaries would be “bad”, “wrong”, or “unethical”.

    That’s before you consider the substantial number of Universities whose athletic departments either a) are in the black or b) would be in the black if not for Title IX. That’s before you consider the number of people who develop an affinity for an institution by following their sports teams, all but guaranteeing a paying student when they reach that age. It’s also before you consider the handful of schools whose athletic departments actually help fund the academic arm of the school because they’re profitable.

    All that to say nothing of the fact that a huge number of college athletes are getting educations that they wouldn’t if it weren’t for sports.

    So, yeah, I’m not sure the word “ethical” means what you (or the so-called economist) think it does.

  12. baltimore dawg

    when i suggest that the ethics of higher education and athletics are far more nuanced than supply and demand and you reply that one “can’t be a little bit pregnant” you’re reducing the point to a simple binarism. but i’m glad to see a more thoughtful response now.

    still, we’re talking past each other in so many ways here i don’t even know where to begin, but the basic way in which we disagree, as far as i can see, is that you (and lots of others, too) fall back on a supply-and-demand argument for why athletic budgets increase at a disproportionate rate relative to academic budgets: if the consumer wants more and better athletics, then the cost of providing it inevitably increases. this argument then implies that if there were commensurate consumer demand for an “academic commodity” (say, an undergraduate degree) then we would see a similar sort of inflation. thus, the disparity can be explained as a disparity of consumer demand.

    but the reality is that the demand for a college education is many, many times greater than greater than our higher education system’s capacity to meet it (just talk to any admissions officer almost anywhere). so my point is that it’s not simply supply and demand; it’s also a matter of institutional priorities (and, yes, as you suggest, cultural priorities), and that *is* ethics. if recent events have taught us anything it’s that we ought to view simplistic arguments that appeal to so-called basic economics as an unquestionable arbiter with some skepticism—most people, for example, would say now that home values were ginned up to an irrational frothiness not because there was a pent-up demand, although that’s always how rising values were explained before the crash. there was no “invisible hand”—there were just speculators, easy credit, tv shows like “flip this house,” and, above all, a naive belief promoted in all kinds of ways that asset values could never, ever fall. have a look at murray sperber’s beer and circus (holt, 2000) for a study of the heavy indirect costs of college athletics.

    the last word is yours, if you want it. but if you’re ever in baltimore, i’ll be happy to buy you a beer (natty boh, of course) and explain to you in ample detail all of the ways that you’re wrong on this issue, senator!

    cheers.

    • bd, the big difference I’m seeing between us it that you see this salary matter as a metaphor for some larger discussion about ethical priorities in secondary education, while I take Zimbalist’s point – that paying the college president less than the football coach is a serious ethical shortfall – literally.

      As for your Natty Bo offer, the next time Baltimore hosts the NCAA lacrosse championship and Virginia is in the Final Four, I’m definitely down with that.

  13. Pete Holiday

    “if the consumer wants more and better athletics, then the cost of providing it inevitably increases.”

    Completely false. Counter example: the University of Alabama receives surplus cash (seven figures) virtually every year from the athletic department, which is 100% self-sufficient. Education is cheaper there than it would be if the athletic department doesn’t exist.

  14. Hobnail_Boot

    “you can’t be a little bit pregnant.

    If you want to stay purer, join the Ivy League.”

    Or, you can just be Georgia Tech and claim both intellectual and athletic prominence.

  15. Sparrow

    Just to pointlessly inject myself into this melee, Pete, whether or not Bama is in the black is irrelevant on the matter of cost. What you are pointing to is an example of where the revenue is greater than the cost, not that the cost is minimal.

  16. Pete Holiday

    The cost being minimal does not mean that the amount contributed would go up. In fact, not being competitive would probably cause the opposite to happen.

    Minimum cost is not a goal to be sought. Efficiency is.

  17. Jeff

    Its not about ethics. Ethics is right or wrong. This has nothing to with that its about how the market has changed our priorities.

  18. HackerDog

    BD and others typically confuse the issue of demand with salary. They are correlated, but not equivalent.

    The typical example is the salary of a professional athlete versus that of a teacher. If we use the state of Georgia as an example, some might look at Michael Turner, who made $16 million in 2008 and compare that to the average teacher salary of $48k. The incorrect conclusion would be that we place more value on professional football than on education because we pay football players so much more than we pay teachers.

    The correct valuation should be across the industry. The payroll of the Atlanta Falcons in 2008 was $96 million. The 2006 teacher payroll for Georgia was over $5 billion. That’s more than 52x the payroll for the state’s professional football team.

    UGA has a similar dynamic. Compare the football team’s, or even the entire athletic department’s budget versus the budget of UGA as a whole. I’m sure you’ll see that the general public demands much more from UGA than a football team.

  19. Sparrow

    Pete – I think you need to take a second reading of my comment. First, I wasn’t disagreeing with your general point, just pointing out an inconsistency in your argument.

    Second, you severely misconstrued what I was saying there; at no point do I assert that the cost being minimal means that the amount contributed would go up. Frankly, I don’t even know what you’re trying to say there.

    Third, efficiency is not measured by profit or loss, but by the benefit (i.e. revenue) of each dollar spent or profit margin. A program like Bama may rake in millions, but depending on what it has spent to make that money determines whether or not it is ultimately efficient.

    Finally, check out this article from the NY Times Magazine on the losing prospect of increasing football spending:(http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0DE0DB173DF931A15751C1A9649C8B63&scp=1&sq=university+of+south+florida+football&st=nyt). It’s off topic from the discussion regarding ethics, but punches a fair number of holes in conventional wisdom.

  20. Pete Holiday

    Frankly, I have no idea what your point is, Sparrow.

    Third, efficiency is not measured by profit or loss, but by the benefit (i.e. revenue) of each dollar spent or profit margin.

    The University itself spends $0 from its general fund on athletics and receives back from that expenditure millions of dollars.

    As for the article, I don’t think it punches holes in much of anything unless there was some conception that starting a football program from nothing and expecting it to compete with established teams is cheap and easy.

    When it’s done well, spending more on college football is a pretty damn good investment.

  21. Sparrow

    Again, context and reading comprehension is everything. As I stated, I was merely pointing out an inconsistency in your general argument. Let me spell it out.

    Your response to the statement “if the consumer wants more and better athletics, then the cost of providing it inevitably increases”, was to say that the cost does not increase. As you put it, the above quote was “completely false”. For it to be false, the true statement would look something like “if the consumer wants more and better athletics, then the cost will not increase”. Or of you want a less harsh alternative, “if the consumer wants more and better athletics, then the cost may or may not increase”. Both negate the original statement. I have no problem with this line of thinking so far.

    The problem comes when you point out that Bama’s football team produces a surplus to back up this statement. Bama’s financial success aside, it doesn’t address the point of “more and better athletics” costing more. It has to do with how a successful athletic program can offset the costs of education.

    You go on to say that efficiency is the goal that these programs should be aiming to achieve. Here (just like your general point earlier) you are right, particularly as it relates to Bama. If you had made this point up front, we’d never have had the chance for this entertaining back and forth.

    Finally, I think you’re wrong about the article. Programs across the country have increased football spending to raise their academic profile (as USF is described as doing in the piece), most without much success, let alone windfall profits from football to boost academics.

  22. Pete Holiday

    “If you had made this point up front, we’d never have had the chance for this entertaining back and forth.”

    I direct you to my original reply . . .

    Compare “The University itself spends $0 from its general fund on athletics. . .” to “[The athletic department] is 100% self-sufficient.”

    Compare “. . .and receives back from that expenditure millions of dollars.” to “University of Alabama receives surplus cash (seven figures) virtually every year from the athletic department”

    “Again, context and reading comprehension is everything.”

    Indeed.

  23. Sparrow

    Pete, ultimately the problem is that your response, which again is correct in its underlying premise, is that it doesn’t address the question to which you were responding. I was simply trying to point that out. If you can’t see that, I can’t help you.

  24. Pete Holiday

    “is that it doesn’t address the question to which you were responding.”

    If only saying so made it true.

    To elaborate more, which I didn’t think would be required here, but you seem to be (intentionally?) missing it: it was asserted that better athletics cost more.

    That may or may not be true, depending on whose costs we’re looking at, but when you’re looking at it from the academic side of things, it’s just not true at all.

    Which is to say, even more plainly, that the folks with the bowties and stuffy books do not necessarily have to give any money to the athletic department to make it better, so even if we were to assume that how a university spends its money is, by default, an “ethical” question, that still doesn’t make the issue of coaches’ salaries vs. university administrators’ salaries an ethical discussion in all situations.

    Of course, my primary and original point is that this isn’t an ethical issue at all. Unsupported assertions to the contrary notwithstanding.

  25. Sparrow

    So the problem is the word cost. I see the issue like this: all programs that chose to “pursue more and better athletics” will incur greater costs, whether funded by academics, boosters, or narcotics trade. You saw it as an issue of borrowing from academics to pay for football. Fair enough, I can see how you take exception to that premise. I’m sorry I made you do the heavy lifting to explain where the cost was applied. From my point of view, that fact wasn’t to be assumed because the original quote appeared in the context of BD’s explaining why the issue of ethics and athletic funding is not binary. He wasn’t making the argument that more and better athletics increase costs on academics, he was describing the red herring of a supply/demand model as it applied to college football versus academics. Furthermore, there’s nothing in that supply/demand model that assumes that funding for one comes from the other, only that salaries and correspondent costs are merely reflective of the demand for the product.

    I guess it’s my mistake for not drawing the same conclusion you were there.