(Yale’s mascot is the bulldog)
There was back and forth recently between Matthew Yglesias and Jon Chait of The New Republic (and a Michigan alum) over a Marist poll which found that college football isn’t nearly as popular in the northeast as it is in the Midwest or elsewhere. Yglesias thinks this is how it should be; Chait, unsurprisingly, thinks college football programs are important:
Football and men’s basketball generally make money, and those programs that don’t make money come relatively close to making money. They plow the money they make into subsidizing sports that lose money, which is the overwhelming majority. Many schools still operate their athletic program at a surplus, but more have to subsidize athletics.
Now, I think athletics is a very reasonable thing for a university to subsidize. Universities spend tons of money on things that “have nothing to do with their social function of promoting research and education.” They give their students free gyms and glee clubs and movies and whatnot.
It’s just a hunch, but I think there’s also another reason college athletics programs are a good idea: it puts colleges on the map. I’ve always thought that Michigan wouldn’t be nearly as famous as it is without its historic athletics programs. Thanks to Michigan football and basketball (back in the day) there’s a reason for people to talk about our university, and through that they are able to see that we actually are more than just a state school. We also have excellent academics. Without our athletics program, would the university have as much money as it does to spend on academics (even though most of the donations for sports go to, well, sports)? I doubt it. Would alums visit Michigan as much as they do? I doubt it. Would they give as much money as they do? Also doubtful. And would people talk about our school and describe it as a well-rounded institution? Again, I doubt it.
Look, that doesn’t mean every school with a football team automatically becomes famous for its academics, but I think it does get the chance to shine in other college categories as well.
(Image by dwhartwig used under a Creative Commons lincense.)