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It seems trivially obvious that a better use of funds at many universities would be paying for actual academic research at a few hundred K per year, vs a big-name football coach, with all the associated staff, assistants, equipment, etc, for tens of millions per year.

Except the ROI on the football program is obvious and huge compared to literally any department at the university.

Since when it has become acceptable that the goal of academic institute is/should be dirty ROI? And then why just football? Start funding cabaret, rave parties and poll-dance events as they surely will have more ROI.

Sports has been the undoing of US education in schools [1] earlier and now it seems even in higher ed. The sooner they get rid of sports from educational institutes the better for them.

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/10/the-case...

I was on staff at a small science and engineering school with a top 25 football team, and I was the faculty rep for the cycling team. I had no love for football, and I say that as someone who played in highschool. Until I saw the finances and realized they funded the entire sports program. As much as it pained me, I had a hard time complaining after that.

High school is not the same as college.

Also, The Atlantic is not a reliable source. It prints garbage like this:

"Football at Premont cost about $1,300 a player. Math, by contrast, cost just $618 a student."

even though everyone at the school takes math, very few play football, and not everyone involved in football is a player.

>>Also, The Atlantic is not a reliable source. It prints garbage like this:

Atlantic may or may not be a reliable source. What about this? A coach is given a whooping $7,004,000 salary.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is in his first year with the Wolverines and sits behind Saban with a $7,004,000 total pay. [1]

[1] http://www.si.com/college-football/2015/10/08/highest-paid-c...

By definition of positive ROI, the university has more money than before, which in particular means it can spend more money on research by building football stadia.

On the wider scale, extracurriculars only affect[2] share-of-students rather than increase the total number of students[1], so such programs have a globally negative ROI. But each individual university is making a rational decision.

[1] I'm assuming there's a negligible percentage of students that would avoid college entirely if no or very few colleges had football programs. It's safe to ignore football scholarships, because you still have the option of giving the students free money, which is cheaper than giving them free money and also running a football program.

[2] I'm also assuming the football program itself doesn't generate enough revenue to offset its costs, and only affects enrollment. I honestly don't know if they make enough money in tickets and trinkets to offset the debt service for a stadium, salaries for coaches, free tuition for students, etc. If the ROI is positive(or even negative, but with a positive cap rate), then it might be rational economically to continue them.

You're assuming that the ROI generated by football isn't a transfer from other universities who lose students to the spending uni. More likely, funding football is a zero sum game which generates no overall benefit for the research community.

You think that football game attendees (and T-shirt buyers, and...) would write checks to math researchers if football got cancelled?

That's what I said in my second sentence.

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