NY Times: Football Killed the Physics Star

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Boise State football coach Chris Peterson recently got a raise of $375,000 a year. That's more than twice the median price for a single-family home in Boise. And while the numbers might seem shocking, they aren't uncommon.

A lengthy feature story in the Sunday New York Times examined the exponential growth of sports programs relative to the universities they are attached to.

Between 1985 and 2010, average salaries at public universities rose 32 percent for full professors, 90 percent for presidents and 650 percent for football coaches.

The same trend is apparent in a 2010 Knight Commission report that found the 10 highest-spending athletic departments spent a median of $98 million in 2009, compared with $69 million four years earlier. Spending on high-profile sports grew at double to triple the pace of that spent on academics. For example, Big Ten colleges—including Penn State—spent a median of $111,620 per athlete and $18,406 per student on academics.

The piece also examines how the focus on sports causes a directly measurable decline in academic achievement.

In a study published last month as part of the National Bureau of Education Research working paper series, Oregon researchers compared student grades with the performance of the Fighting Ducks, winner of this year’s Rose Bowl and a crowd pleaser in their Nike uniforms in crazy color combinations and mirrored helmets.

“Here is evidence that suggests that when your football team does well, grades suffer,” said Dr. [Glen R.] Waddell, who compared transcripts of over 29,700 students from 1999 to 2007 against Oregon’s win-loss record. For every three games won, grade-point average for men dropped .02, widening the GPA gender gap by 9 percent. Women’s grades didn’t suffer. In a separate survey of 183 students, the success of the Ducks also seemed to cause slacking off: Students reported studying less (24 percent of men, 9 percent of women), consuming more alcohol (28 percent, 20 percent), and partying more (47 percent, 28 percent).

The full piece can be read here.