STARKVILLE — Mississippi State softball player Kinsey Goelz likes numbers.
Though softball is her sport of choice, the Myakka City, Florida, native always has found the economics of college athletics fascinating.
Noted author and economic professor Dr Andrew Zimbalist shares that passion for numbers. He provided plenty of examples Tuesday afternoon in a speech centered on helping save college athletics at Mississippi State’s McComas Hall.
“As far as my teammates, go we just talk about practice and what is next for our team,” Goelz said. “To hear his presentation today was eye-opening. It made you think about some things you have never thought of before. Even though softball is my sport, it was great to see a wide array of topics.”
Zimbalist hit a series of topics in his hour-long presentation. While baseball is his first love, the Smith College professor of economics focused on that is wrong with college athletics and how to fix some of the problems.
Among the highlights:
In the past five years, between 18 and 24 (out of 130) Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools showed a profit in athletic department revenue. Essentially, almost all football programs thrive and the same could be said about men’s basketball.
However, when all sports are factored in, many Olympic sports are not self-sufficient and push their respective school’s budgets into the red.
Of these 130 FBS schools, 10 percent of the football head coaches made $1.1 million last year. The median salary was $3.3 million. Twenty made $4M or more, while three made $7M.
Zimbalist said the first step toward correcting the financial rough spot for college athletics would be limiting coaching salaries to make them more on par with the salary of the presidents at these schools.
“If you look at a business module, college athletic programs generate revenue similar to a Fortune 500 company,” Zimbalist said. “The difference is college athletic programs have stakeholders, not shareholders. Stakeholders are fans, alumni, who benefit from the success of a particular athletic program. However, they are not in a business since, like stockholders, where the work of employees has a direct influence on whether the business is successful.”
Zimbalist has studied several legal cases involving the NCAA. He has served on committees and tested before Senate sub-committees.
“The NCAA is not out to repair it image,” Zimbalist said. “It’s a situation where they do just enough to solve problems. There is no enhancement or desire to make things better. Instead, it is a get-by approach in relation to problem-solving.”
The biggest challenge facing NCAA member institutions is the debate whether to pay college athletes. Title IX requirements would see that all athletes were paid in all sports. This would be an enormous strain on college athletic department programs.
In the last five years, the NCAA has allowed cost of attendance payments to be awarded to student-athletes.
However, new challenges continue to exist. The recent tax cuts by the Trump administration mean universities will now have to pay a 21-percent excise tax on coaching salaries better than $1M. Donors also will no longer be allowed a tax credit of up to 80 percent on donations to their universities.
“In the years ahead, we will see a different look on giving,” Zimbalist said. “As ticket prices increase and the ability to not be credited for donations, fewer people are going to be as emotionally invested in their respective programs.”
Zimbalist isn’t in favor of paying student-athletes. However, he said athletic departments need to become more creative to bring athletic department budgets back in line.
“Playing in the Southeastern Conference, we have a lot of advantages,” Goelz said. “I have never had an opinion one way or the other about playing athletes. However, he had good talking points. When it comes time to make a decision, all the research was right there. It was fascinating. You could tell he is consumed by the economics.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.