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The High Cost of the Home Team | The Nation

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The High Cost of the Home Team

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Attention all you young people taking out student loans and groaning about the cost of tuition. Recent events at the University of Alabama may help to explain why it costs you so much to get an education.

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Nicholas von Hoffman
Nicholas von Hoffman, a veteran newspaper, radio and TV reporter and columnist, is the author, most recently, of...

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The other day the sports pages blossomed with the news that a man named Nick Saban had been hired by the University of Alabama to coach its football team. His reported salary for the next eight years? A trifle, my dears. Some $32 million and perhaps more. Saban and his new employers are not being too precise, perhaps out of fear that instead of a pep rally, Saban may be met by a necktie party when he first sets foot on the old quad.

It is interesting that, although there was an outcry on the sports pages about Saban and his new job, it did not concern his salary, which drew only passing notice. The sports reporters were too busy calling the gentleman a liar because he had sworn that he would not leave his previous place of employment, a professional football team.

College coaches get bonus money for signing their contracts and more money for honoring them instead of welshing on the deal and going someplace else for yet more dough. They get bonuses for beating hated rivals and money for their children's college so they will not have to take out loans. Coaches get free cars with insurance. They get sweetheart speaking deals that yield them hundreds of thousands but which do not appear on the books as salary. Some coaches get a percentage of the ticket sales. One way or another, it is clear that Saban's emoluments are not out of line with what others are getting.

Assistant coaches whose job is to recruit high school players for Rah-Rah U are now pulling down $200,000-plus per annum. Can you imagine what the university athletic directors are making--and what about their public relations flacks and the other flunkies who encumber big-time college athletics like barnacles on the bottom of an old hull?

Whenever questioned--and it isn't often--about earning three times the wages of the Nobel laureate in the molecular biology department, the answer that comes back is that athletics pay their own way. Maybe they do and maybe they do not, depending on who is analyzing the books. Certainly, they do not pay if you include the $600 million stadium and the $450 million gym.

But any way you slice it (and they do slice it a lot of ways), should money coming into a college or university go to fatten the already gross-gutted individuals in the athletic department, or should they go for education or even reducing tuition and therefore college loans? Big-money athletics cannot help but sabotage what our colleges and universities are for, which is instruction and research. Making them entertainment centers lessens the value the students or customers get for their educational buck, a buck they have to borrow.

There is no telling what percentage of the student's borrowed dollar goes into non- or anti-educational activities, and there is no possibility that these expenses will be curtailed. If anything, coaches will see their slender underpaid selves yet more richly rewarded thanks to the ongoing bidding war for their dubious services.

It may not be much of a counterweight, but the Democrats have begun to make good on their promise to cut interest on the student loans. They will get some kind of bill through the House of Representatives, but the Senate is a different ball game. Also, the White House, which apparently has discovered the poor, put out a statement saying the President is against the cut. "Reducing student-loan interest rates would direct federal subsidies to college graduates, not to students and their families who are struggling to meet current and future educational expenses."

The bankers who make yet more money off student loans than the football coaches are warning of what a blow it will be should their profits be reduced.

The Consumer Bankers Association, whose lobbying agents are doubtless hard at work subverting the idea of lower interest rates even as you read this, have warned that any messing with their profits would lessen "the ability of lenders to invest in technology, enhance customer service, and offer benefits to borrowers." In as much as the government guarantees them a profit and eliminates all risk, it is hard to understand what unsubstitutable service they perform for their money.

The Consumer Bankers Association, nevertheless, declares, "This program, which has been highly reliable and serves students attending 80 percent of all U.S. colleges and universities, cannot sustain annual deep budget cuts without the quality of services to borrowers being hurt." If that is so, the remedy might be to eliminate the middleman and make the entire loan program one that is handled by the bursar's office and the government.

Another possibility would be to raise the size of Pell Grants and make more students eligible for them. Pell Grants do have the disadvantage of being grants, not loans, so there is nothing to pay back and therefore no interest to be paid.

But no, something of that sort smacks of free public education, and if that is not Bolshevism, it must be the next thing to it.

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