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The real price of athletics at Stanford

In his “The Price of Athletics at Stanford” (2/23) op-ed, Jeremy Majerovitz argues that Stanford University is allocating far too many dollars to fund its Department of Athletics (“Athletics”), compromising its commitment to academic and scholarly achievement in the process. Although the piece raises several issues concerning the dynamic nature of collegiate athletics that are certainly worthy of campus discussion, the quality of the information Majerovitz utilizes to support his argument is poor.

The first fault in Majerovitz’s argument is his assertion that “the net annual cost” of the University’s Department of Athletics is “around $67 million.” According to the 2013-14 edition of the Student-Athlete Handbook, approximately $100 million would be spent to furnish the Cardinal’s athletic teams that year. As “The Price of Athletics at Stanford” correctly notes, “Approximately one-third comes from ticket sales and television rights.” The problem is that, armed with all the ammunition he needed, Majerovitz evidently stopped reading the handbook at that point, failing even to finish the sentence he was on. As that sentence goes on to say, “but private support — donations from generous people who care deeply about Stanford Athletics — accounts for more than ticket sales and television rights combined.”

Thus, contrary to Majerovitz’s claims, the University is not responsible for paying the $67 million not covered by tickets and TV. In fact, it is not responsible for one penny of that amount. According to Stanford Associate Athletic Director Heather Owen’s gostanford.com bio page, “the athletic department [is] financially independent from the University.” In other words, all the money used to put the Cardinal’s athletic teams on the field, court, track, pool, etc. is self-generated and not redirected away from legitimate academic programs or departments.

So where does the remaining $67 million come from? As per the information provided in the handbook, the amount not covered by tickets, TV and donations (does the name John Arrillaga ring any bells?) could be at most around $33 million. The remainder is covered by Athletics’ contract with Nike, corporate sponsorships, apparel and gear sales, concessions and facility rental (although Stanford is not required to release the details of its agreement with Nike, it is common practice for apparel sponsors to provide institutions both cash and merchandise). Still more money could and does indeed come. The bottom line is that Majerovitz grossly overstates the amount of money the University funnels into its Department of Athletics when in fact no such subsidy even exists.

Furthermore, if it’s ballooning athletic budgets Majerovitz seeks to complain about, he should avert his gaze from 641 East Campus Drive and instead look at the entire collegiate athletics landscape. If the $100 million number provided in the handbook is accurate, then Stanford Athletics actually spends far less per team than its NCAA Division I peers. Athletics sponsors 36 NCAA sports ($2.78 million average per team) and counts nearly 900 student-athletes — one of the largest athletic programs in the entire nation — yet incurs lower total expenses than many of its Power 5 foes. In 2012-23, the three institutions with the most athletic-related expenditures (Texas, Wisconsin and Michigan) spent $8.15, $6.38 and $4.85 million, respectively, on each of their programs, and more than 100 Division I universities gave $10 million or more to support their sports teams.

The second major flaw in Majerovitz’s piece are the purported “facts” he uses to support his claim that schools, including Stanford, lower their admission standards for athletes. He references a Princeton study that concluded, “Being a recruited athlete significantly improves one’s chances of being admitted to an elite university.” While Majerovitz writes that the admission records of “a group of 10 elite colleges” were examined in the study, the researchers indicate that “the information for this analysis comes from three (emphasis added) private research universities that represent that top tier of American higher education.” Because “anonymity was guaranteed” to all participants, it is impossible to know whether Stanford was included in that trio. Even if it was, the numbers the Princeton study reports are averages; if Stanford was included in the data set (as Majerovitz assumes), was it above, below or at the average? At the very least, it seems deceptive for Majerovitz to cite the Princeton researchers’ conclusions as representative of the relationship between Stanford Admissions and recruited athletes.

Also, the “Stanford recruitment” information Majerovitz links in his piece can hardly be considered representative of Stanford football’s recruiting class of 2009 (and of the entire student-athlete population’s) test scores, yet Majerovitz uses what little data he could glean to conclude that the group “[placed] near the bottom of Stanford’s admits.” Of the 22 players in the recruiting class, only three submitted SAT scores, and only two reported ACT scores — hardly a significant sample size. What’s more, the median for the three SAT scores (1620, 1840, 1980) shown on the Rivals site is 1840 — not the 1800 claimed by Majerovitz. The median for the two ACT scores (26, 29) is 27.5, not the 26 score Majerovitz calculated. Regardless of whether the numbers are accurate or not, the use of five combined SAT and ACT scores doesn’t even remotely approach the sample size needed to conclude that Stanford lowers its admission standards for athletes.

In the end, Majerovitz’s contention that the University should reconsider the budget it “gives” to Athletics is without merit, because the money Athletics utilizes to put its sports teams in action is not diverted away from academic programs. Rather than criticize the Athletic Department for its (relatively efficient) expenditures, Majerovitz and the wider Stanford community should focus on the unique exposure and diversity student-athletes bring to the Farm.

Cameron Miller ’16

Cameron Miller is a Daily staffer.

Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu

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