On the Role and Value of Intercollegiate Athletics in Universitiesby J. Angelo Corlett

Journal of Academic Ethics


Education / Sociology and Political Science / Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous) / Philosophy



On the Role and Value of Intercollegiate Athletics in Universities

J. Angelo Corlett

Published online: 31 May 2013 # Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Abstract This paper challenges Professor Myles Brand’s position on the role and value of intercollegiate athletics in U.S. colleges and universities on the ground that it fails to account for considerations of deep fiscal responsibility. It presents both a philosophical and ethical criticism of his position that broadens the discussion beyond athletics to include a particular kind of higher educational institution more generally.

Keywords Argument from fiscal responsibility . Myles Brand . Corruption . Ethics . Fiscal responsibility view . Fraud . Integrated view . Self-support . Standard view .Waste

The late and distinguished Myles Brand, former Professor of Philosophy at the University of

Arizona, President first of the University of Oregon and then of Indiana University, and

President of the NCAA, recently made a distinction between the “Standard View” of intercollegiate athletics according to which intercollegiate athletics is an extracurricular activity (Brand 2006, 9), and the “Integrated View” which holds that athletics should be part of the educational environment and that we ought to eliminate the bias against physical skill development. (Brand 2006, 17) Since the publication of Professor Brand’s article, an economic crisis has rocked not only the United States but most of the rest of the world, and it is particularly experienced harshly by U.S. colleges and universities. While Professor

Brand’s defense of the Integrated View is important and insightful, it fails to take into account this fiscal crisis and how it seems to require a different attitude, one of deep fiscal responsibility, toward every aspect of the college and university experience.

In the spirit of creating fruitful dialogue concerning the matter of intercollegiate athletic funding in particular and academic programs in general, I will argue that the global economic crisis makes it obvious that neither the Standard View nor the Integrated View

J Acad Ethics (2013) 11:199–209

DOI 10.1007/s10805-013-9188-5

This paper is dedicated to the excellent person and work of Professor Myles Brand. I would like to thank this journal’s Editor-in-Chief, Deborah Poff for her encouragement and an anonymous referee for valuable comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

J. A. Corlett (*)

Department of Philosophy, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA 92182, USA e-mail: acorlett@mail.sdsu.edu of intercollegiate athletics will suffice. Instead, an economic argument will be marshaled that forces those of us in higher education to become deeply fiscally responsible. While it is primarily an economic argument, it is also a qualitative one in that, I assume, the quality of a higher educational institution is contingent at least in part on how fiscally viable it is able to become and remain over time. I shall refer to it as the “Fiscal Responsibility View” and it relies for its plausibility primarily on an Argument from Fiscal Responsibility which states that every aspect of public higher education must be re-evaluated in terms of its economic efficiency. Where there is significant and more than temporary waste, fraud or corruption, fiscal responsibility requires that budgetary decisions be made to resolve the issue in terms of terminating administrators, faculty or staff and even programs that are doing more fiscal harm than good to the mission of the higher educational institution in question, or those administrators, faculty and staff who are regularly underproductive1 need to be either demoted, given a greater course load (if teaching faculty2) without an increase in compensation, as the case may be. Public higher education is the general target of my discussion. By “higher educational institutions” and “colleges and universities” I specifically mean those that award graduate degrees.

Unlike the Standard View, the Fiscal Responsibility View sidesteps the issue of whether or not athletics is or ought to be part of the core mission of public higher education. For it can hold such a view—indeed, it can even add that each unit of higher education can be construed as having equal weight-and nonetheless hold fast to what Professor Brand calls the “principle of self—support” (Brand 2006, 16) with regard to academic units or programs, thereby differentiating the Fiscal Responsibility View from the Integrated View. The difference between the Standard View and the Integrated View, on the one hand, and the Fiscal

Responsibility View, on the other, is that the latter view seeks to hold every program and individual in graduate-degree granting higher educational institutions to a general principle that no significant and ongoing waste, fraud or corruption is to be tolerated or go unpunished (At the very least, it should never be rewarded as is often currently the case). Once this antiwaste, fraud and corruption principle is taken seriously, and once it is linked to Professor

Brand’s principle of self-support within colleges and universities, most administrators, faculty, staff and programs will have to either begin to conform to new standards of efficiency and productivity or face dire consequences. Assumed here is that no legitimate employment contract should respect under-performance (judged by reasonable professional standards) by anyone for more than a short time or in absence of serious illness or injury. So where waste, fraud, corruption or significant under-productivity are evident, significant and more than temporary, then the personnel aligned with them must be terminated, otherwise demoted or otherwise penalized, as the case warrants according to basic considerations of fairness and proportionality.

All of the foregoing is relevant to Professor Brand’s statement that “recent studies conducted under the auspices of the NCAA cast serious doubt on the claim that continued increases in expenditures results in improved competitiveness or in an enhanced ability to 1 Faculty research under-productivity might well be determined fairly on the basis of, say, average research productivity over the course of one’s career up to the time of evaluation. So that those, for instance, who publish in excess of the basic standard (say, one article per year in a range of specified kinds of journals) might be able to “bank” their excess publications above and beyond the standard during years when they are less productive such as their final years nearing retirement or during a time of recovery from serious illness or injury. 2 Of course, I refer here only to full-time tenured and tenure-track teaching faculty in classrooms or laboratories, not to part- or full-time temporary, adjunct or other contingent faculty who work terribly hard without reasonable compensation for their fine efforts. 200 J.A. Corlett satisfy the principle of self-support.” (Brand 2006, 16, citing Orszag and Orszag 2009)