* How Does the Addition of Football Serve the University's Mission? According to the University itself, "Kennesaw State University's mission is to provide educational programs that serve a diverse student body in ... a comprehensive and coherent general education program that promotes internationalized and connected learning in the liberal arts tradition." If this "Mission Statement" is to mean anything, it must be explained exactly how that educational mission of "connected learning" would be served by the addition of an intercollegiate football team.
As Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman long ago observed, universities "do not exist to provide entertainment for spectators or employment for athletes." If the Exploratory Committee agrees with this conclusion, it must at least address what educational purposes major college football would serve.
* What Will It Cost? Two universities, Hofstra and Northeastern, have recently announced the termination of their half-century-old college football programs. Citing high costs, mounting debt and low student interest, these universities are terminating programs which long ago incurred the start-up costs KSU feels its boosters would be so willing to undertake in the most difficult possible financial climate.
"Facts are inconvenient things" and certain facts can only be ignored only at Kennesaw State's financial peril. Last fall, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics called the system, which Kennesaw State will presumably seek to join, "unsustainable" due to rising costs for facilities and coaching salaries. Hofstra, for example, calculated its expenses to be $4.5 million a year just to participate in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I AA).
Even major programs with a history of success and notoriety have been able to maintain a football program only by access to the University's General Fund. According to The Daily Californian, the University of California-Berkley's General Fund had advanced (and later wrote off) $31.4 million in prior payments to support the football team. An additional $5.8 million subsidy was required to maintain the football program for another year.
Dan Fulks, an accounting professor at Transylvania University, has analyzed athletic finances for the NCAA. For the last fiscal year for which results are available, only 19 institutions in the FBS Division (formerly I-A) football reported a profit from athletics. The 99 other schools lost an average of $8.9 million each. The addition of a scholarship football program will entail costs for compliance with Title IX under federal law relating to aid to women's athletic programs. These costs will be considerable, yet entirely derivative, as well as on-going.
* Is There an Unfilled Need? The establishment of a football program for the Kennesaw State Owls cannot be justified as filling a need for more college football viewing opportunities. None of Georgia Tech's home games have sold out this year and Georgia State will be thrilled if it only has 60,000 unsold seats for each of its remaining games in the Georgia Dome this season. At a time when state funding for Kennesaw State is being slashed, taxpayers and boosters are asked to fund what amounts to no more than a modern day pyramid - an empty monument to inflated egos.
* Does It Matter If No Legitimate Educational Purpose Can Be Identified? Milton Freidman characterized the issue properly: "As long as athletes are admitted at lower standards than other students, sports are a corruptive influence on higher education." How does Kennesaw State hope to avoid the disparity experienced in the state's other major college programs between athletes and the general student body?
According to the most recently available statistics, members of the football team at the University of Georgia had a cumulative SAT score 239 points below the average for the typical undergraduate at the university. Georgia Tech was even worse: the football players scored 315 SAT points lower on average than their classmates. Graduation statistics show similar disparities. Is there any reason to think that KSU's experience would be different?
College sports at too many schools have served primarily to create a gladiatorial culture at the expense of minority students. Students who have not met even the lowest standards are admitted, and then burdened with onerous physical obligations that make it virtually impossible for the football players to devote the time to their studies that would allow them to make up for their academic deficiencies.
In opposing the expansion of existing football facilities at Rutgers University, Dr. William C. Dowling, a professor of English, has correctly summarized the issue: "If you were giving the scholarship to an intellectually brilliant kid who happens to play a sport, that's fine" but to give it to a student who does not meet the minimum requirements for admission, "then make him spend 50 hours a week on physical skills. ... That's not opportunity."
In a world where a B average can earn a HOPE Scholarship, it cannot be seriously argued that KSU's "exploration" is about expanding educational opportunities for deserving students.
What the advocates of "big time" college football at Kennesaw State also need to identify is what major university football programs actually make money and how KSU can emulate them. What program do they want to be like in five years? Exactly what, if anything, would the fledgling program at Kennesaw State hope to have in common with the financially successful athletic departments at Oklahoma, Ohio State or the University of Georgia?
If Kennesaw State is to follow the lead of Georgia State in creating a football program, it will have to do so by burdening students with additional fees and demands upon the university's ever-diminishing educational funds in ever-increasing amounts. Georgia State may have arguably filled a need for a level of football below that played by the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech. There is no longer such a void to be filled.
* Is There a Reasonable Option to Serve All Valid Interests? The University of New Orleans has established the correct path for Kennesaw State if it really wants a football team: Operate a Division III Program. This entails the creation of a non-scholarship football team which would reward students who are interested primarily in securing an education, and only secondarily in enjoying the camaraderie and thrills of football competition.
Scholarships are not given at this level, minimum stadium sizes are not imposed, and participation in 15 intercollegiate sports (which is required to be a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision along with the likes of Georgia and Georgia Tech) are not imposed. Pursuing this avenue would demonstrate that KSU is truly committed to education and not entertainment.
The questions are simple: What tangible educational benefits does a football program bring, and at what cost? In Division III, the University would be demonstrating that the decision is about playing football, not inflating egos. In the higher divisions, the school would be endorsing the gladiatorial schemes of the major conferences which Hofstra and Northeastern have so properly rejected.
If it chooses to pursue FBS or FCS participation, it is possible that Kennesaw State knows something the Knight Commission does not. It is reasonable, however, to ask exactly what that might be.
Without regard to the educational issues, if the current system is not "sustainable" for existing programs, how can it be economically justified for new ones?
Tom Harper is an attorney in Marietta.