Smith Reynolds Professor of Public Policy Studies, Professor of Economics and Law, Duke University
Several hundred of the largest American universities do something quite unknown in universities anywhere else in the world. They sponsor athletic programs whose revenues, media coverage, and notoriety give them a striking resemblance to professional sports franchises. This fact is as unremarkable to most adults who were raised in this country as it must surely be strange to a first-time visitor from abroad. Although it has been a feature of American universities for a century or more, big-time sports has little apparent connection with the traditional aims of universities – research, teaching, and service. Despite its deep and longstanding popularity, it has been a consistently problematic part of American higher education. A natural question to ask is, why do so many American universities engage in this activity? Paradoxically, those who should know the most about universities – scholars of higher education and universities themselves – have had little to say about this question. My aim is to propose an answer to this question and address one more: what are the costs and benefits of big-time college sports?