To get the debate going, I will simply list the top 20 universities in the world, according to the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings of the 400 best universities in the world, found at the magazine's website. The rankings are based on academic reputation, employer response, faculty-student ratio, ratings from international faculties and students, and citations per faculty.
I believe such rankings are about as accurate as preseason football rankings, but the academic rankings will substantiate the two points I will be making: (1) college football is not a plus for academic reputations. In fact, football drags them down; but for some schools, not as much as others. (2) The salaries paid to football coaches dwarf faculty salaries and those paid to the presidents of colleges and universities, which is a good example of misplaced priorities for these schools.
Here are the top 20 universities in the world, according to U.S. News and World Report: (l) MIT, (2) University of Cambridge, (3) Harvard, (4) University College London, (5) Oxford, (6) Imperial College London, (7) Yale, (8) University of Chicago, (9) Princeton, (10) Cal Tech, (11) Columbia, (12) Penn, (13) Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, (14) Cornell, (15) Stanford, (16) Johns Hopkins, (17) University of Michigan, (18) McGill University, (19) University of Toronto and (20) Duke University.
I would argue that football does not help the academic reputations of those top 20 schools with football teams, but does not hurt them too much either. In fact, some football players are drawn to Michigan, Stanford and Duke, for instance, because of their academics.
On the other hand, many high school football players could not get into top schools — or even second-rank ones — if they applied like anybody else. Exceptions are made, even at the top schools, for those who can throw or catch a football, or those who can tackle them. That is a moral issue which rarely is talked about.
The Big Ten did well in the top 400. For instance, Northwestern came in at 27, Wisconsin at 38, Purdue at 95, Penn State at 101, Minnesota at 104, Ohio State at 105, Michigan State at 174, Iowa at 199 and Indiana at 210.
Interestingly, Notre Dame came in at 235. If the ratings were strictly based on undergrad education, Notre Dame, I am sure, would rank much higher. The strength of schools like Michigan and Stanford and the rest of the Big Ten is largely due to their graduate programs.
The SEC, which has won a number of BCS championships in recent years, did not do as well as the Big Ten. Florida came in at 169, Vanderbilt at 167, Georgia at 387. Alabama, which has won three out of the past four national championships, was not ranked in the top 400.
My point is not to degrade Alabama or any other school, but simply to show the direct relationship between strength of conferences in football with strength of conferences in academics. Here the Big Ten beats the SEC by many touchdowns, even if they cannot do that on the gridiron.
Now to the issue of priorities.
According to the magazine called The Week (May 24), "College sports coaches are the highest-paid state employees in 41 states, receiving checks that surpass the salaries of governors, university presidents, and doctors and lawyers working in state agencies."
When football coaches make far more than the professors who teach the students or the presidents who run such institutions, or the governors who run the states, there is something morally wrong! The missions of these schools are confused. If the mission is to educate students, not win football games, then the salaries should reflect that.
When most people think of Ohio State, they think football, but how many people know that Ohio State ranks well in the top 400? Here football (and recent coaches) have hurt Ohio State's stellar academic standing. Again, misplaced priorities.
The trustees of these football powers must look at the role of big time football in their academic institutions and decide if they want to be football factories or top academic institutions. Perhaps Alabama should pay the faculty a fraction of what they pay Lou Saban, the football coach.
The University of Chicago learned years ago that big time football and world stature in academics could not exist side by side, at least there. And U-C's academic reputation has soared ever since.
I would still attend college football games even if the coaches did not make millions, and even if the players were not given free education and admitted to school with affirmative action of a special kind — football ability. After all, the tailgating would be just as much fun!
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist