Carrying On: Paying to stay competitive

February 23, 2012

With Georgetown’s new science center, Regents Hall, just months away from completion, the time has come for Georgetown to shift its focus towards its next major project. And so, last week, the University revealed revised plans for a new athletic training facility, which will be submitted for final regulatory approval in the coming months.

If all goes well with the Old Georgetown Board and the Zoning Commission, the University can finally begin moving forward with the first major addition to athletics practice facilities since McDonough Gymnasium was built in 1951. Needless to say, the new facility, which hosts dedicated practice space for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as new locker rooms and training areas for other sports, is a major upgrade. Athletic director Lee Reed called it “transformational.” John Thompson III simply said it was “necessary.”

For varsity athletes, or anyone who cares about the success of Georgetown sports, the new Intercollegiate Athletic Center makes perfect sense. However, not everyone in the University community feels that way. After meeting with administrators to discuss the project last Thursday, I wrote up a post on the new developments for Vox Populi. In the comments, a student (or at least someone self-identifying as “Student”) questioned the University’s priorities: why not upgrade Lauinger first?

I’m in full support of the new practice facility, but I cannot say that I haven’t thought about the logic of the University devoting resources to athletics that could go to academics. It’s an issue that’s being raised increasingly, not just at Georgetown but around the country. The endless parade of scandals plaguing major college sports programs (primarily in football and men’s basketball) has called into question whether the current athletics model is tenable. The athletic experience can be an important component of a student’s development, but at the upper echelons of NCAA football and basketball, the best teams are professional in every sense except for payment of players, or lack thereof.

Some argue that major college sports are antithetical to the educational mission of a university. While it is hard to disagree that athletes sacrifice some of their education, almost every college student has extracurricular activities, and I know that athletes aren’t the only ones who prioritize them over schoolwork. Expecting students to spend four years singularly focused on their studies is an idealistic and antiquated notion.

Whether high-level athletics belong at colleges isn’t really an argument worth having, however, because they already exist, and they’re not going anywhere. Pay-for-play and academic scandals around sports date back to 1900, and the college athletic model has shown a remarkable ability to adapt and grow despite them. Too many schools are now built on the backs of their athletic programs for them to ever disappear. It’s not even about revenue—only a handful of college athletic departments turn a profit—but marketing. Sports are a loss leader for universities, getting their brand out to the public and engaging their alumni (i.e. donors).

Georgetown is no exception. John Thompson Jr. didn’t make Georgetown the top-tier academic school it is today, but the Hoyas’ rise to prominence in the 1980s helped increase national awareness of what, to that point, had been a largely regional university. Sports may not directly improve the quality of education at a school, but they can improve the quality of the students in the classroom. According to a Virginia Tech study, even a Sweet 16 appearance by a school’s men’s basketball team corresponds with a three percent increase in applications the next year, allowing for greater selectivity.

Of course, if athletic success comes at the cost of spending on academics, that benefit quickly disappears. Despite other sorely needed upgrades to facilities around campus, the new practice center doesn’t really fall into that category. (https://cozumelparks.com/) The $55 million project will be completely funded by donors as part of the University’s $1.5 billion capital campaign. Perhaps if the IAC didn’t exist, those benefactors would put that money into renovating Lau, but it seems unlikely. A lot of rich alumni care about Georgetown sports, and the University is happy to improve life for more than 750 varsity athletes if someone else is willing to pay.

There are certainly schools that have mixed up their priorities with regards to academics and athletics, but thankfully Georgetown isn’t one of them. If you need proof, just look to the other big behind-the-scenes story in Georgetown sports last week—the Patriot League’s decision to allow athletic scholarships. As fun as I imagine it would be to see Georgetown become a major football force, I have to give credit to President DeGioia for standing by his position that football scholarships are not for Georgetown. Winning a college football championship is an expensive proposition, not to mention a long shot. It may come as a disappointment to some Georgetown fans, but the University isn’t going to waste money getting caught up in that chase. With that philosophy, a major outlay on athletic facilities once every half-century hardly seems excessive.

Read More

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments