GRAPEVINE, Tex., Jan. 8 -- The escalating fees that TV networks are paying to broadcast college football and basketball games have fueled runaway spending in intercollegiate athletics, but that spending spree -- on superstar coaches' salaries and lavish facilities -- can't be sustained, NCAA President Myles Brand warned as the 99th NCAA Convention got under way Saturday at the Gaylord Texan Resort.
With revenue growing at rates that are sure to level off, Brand urged the 1,900 athletic administrators on hand to confront the reality that winning won't solve the inevitable financial crunch.
"This escalation -- this spiraling of success demanding even more success -- has good people of noble intentions chasing both the carrot and their tails," Brand said. "The spiraling fiscal problem must be arrested. It will take a systematic and strategic effort to do so."
Brand offered few specifics for reining in spending, calling instead for "value-based budgeting" -- in short, abandoning the notion that athletic departments should be financially self-sustaining and integrating them into the university's overall budget. Simply put, Brand said few sports departments can pay for themselves. While 40 of the 325 Division I schools claim their athletic departments generate a profit, Brand said he suspected the real number that balance their ledgers -- after the full costs of scholarships, academic support, facilities and maintenance are figured -- isn't much more than a dozen.
"Congratulations to the few," Brand said, "but it is unrealistic to pressure the vast majority of athletics departments to become self-sufficient."
Brand's remarks come at a lean time for higher education. State funding for public universities has been cut dramatically in recent years, while the decline in the stock market has exacted a toll on university endowments.
Moreover, while the NCAA enacts and enforces the major rules that govern college sports, it is sharply limited in its ability to regulate spending on individual campuses, having lost a major antitrust case before the U.S. Supreme Court 20 years ago. Its attempt to create a low-wage category of aspiring basketball coaches more recently ended up costing the NCAA more than $70 million in fines after its so-called "restricted earnings coach" legislation was found to violate antirust law.
And the 1,200 universities that belong to the NCAA have repeatedly rejected legislation that would trim expenses, arguing that it would undermine their ability to field competitive teams.
"At the end of the day, Dr. Brand has only moral suasion," said Sheldon E. Steinbach, general counsel of the American Council on Education.
Brand touched briefly on the paltry number of black head coaches in Division I-A football (three among 117), which he called "simply appalling." But he painted a rosy picture of most other issues, attempting to debunk what he described as "the great myths" about college sports that have been perpetuated by cynics.
He pointed out that athletes graduate at higher rates than regular students. As for the perception that athletes are steered toward easy courses and less demanding majors, Brand noted that "all of these courses and majors are available to the entire student body."
And he argued most of the problems facing college sports could be solved by focusing on the success of student-athletes. "It is as simple as that: Celebrate the student-athlete," Brand said.
Finally Brand insisted he was not "the czar of college sports," able to cap runaway salaries or create the football playoff fans clamor for. He said he simply represented the will of the universities that belong to the NCAA and that the real power rested in the hands of college presidents.
One of those, former North Carolina university system president William C. Friday, was honored with the NCAA's Ford Award for his decades-long effort to reform college sports through the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. In accepting the award, Friday urged NCAA delegates to summon the will to tackle poor graduation rates, the financial "arms race," escalating coaches' salaries and the trend of firing coaches before their contracts have been fulfilled.
"You and I must be concerned that thoughtful Americans perceive that we have defaulted in meeting these problems -- that we are not in control of college sports," Friday said.