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January 04, 2016

Drexel president on college football: No thanks

Fry says school not 'burdened' by costs of program

The University of Alabama Crimson Tide will play the Clemson University Tigers for the NCAA Football National Championship on Jan. 11.

And Drexel University President John A. Fry is thrilled his school isn't going to be there. Not that the university has a Division 1 football program, let alone any football program.

In an op-ed piece published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Fry criticized the excessive amount of money spent by many schools to support their football programs, citing a number of studies that show for most institutions – minus the big ones – the costs usually exceed the revenues. He writes:

...for all but a handful of schools the cost of a prime-time sports program will always exceed revenues. Yet many universities are spending tens or even hundreds of millions to build football stadiums and training facilities, shelling out millions more to attract star coaches.

He makes note of an NCAA study from last year that found, "Expenses exceeded generated revenue at all but 20 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision." The Bowl Subdivision consists of 128 teams that make up college football's top-tier of competition.

Fry also writes how the large salaries of many coaches often dwarfs the average pay of professors, and how a recent Huffington Post analysis found student fees were used as a majority of the funding for many programs.

He says that Drexel, unlike other schools, does not sacrifice the goal of higher education to prop up the sport. In his mind, not having football is an advantage, as the university can commit resources to other sports that excel. 

His conclusion? He's more than happy to have his school absent from college football Saturdays.

College sports can foster community and build allegiance and visibility for the institution. For student athletes, competition instills teamwork, cultivates leadership and builds time-management skills. But sports are only a part of a school’s educational mission. At Drexel we recognize the benefits of sports but are not burdened by the distractions that come with maintaining a football program. Drexel hasn’t fielded a team since 1973 when administrators realized its budget burden.

His op-ed makes no direct mention of Temple University, but it does come after head coach Matt Rhule signed a six-year extension (the financial terms of which were not disclosed) and plans were announced to build a $100 million, 35,000-seat stadium on the North Philly campus.

That plan has been lambasted by newly-minted Mayor Jim Kenney, who opposes the idea. He's also been critical of the Philadelphia Eagles for wanting to increase the rent at Lincoln Financial Field from $1 million to $2 million when the school's lease ends in 2017.

University President Neil Theobald has championed the idea. In an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer, he said it will create jobs, build on the current momentum and create a better gameday experience for students, fans and alumni.

He also wrote that he understood community concerns, but said the compromise of a smaller venue should work for everyone. Much of the fundraising the university has completed, Theobald wrote, wouldn't be available to the school unless it builds a stadium. 

Temple is coming off one of its best seasons in school history. The Owls finished 10-4 with a loss to Tulane in the Boca Raton Bowl.