Big-time college sports a dying industry?

3/29/2012: I’m no economist, so I don’t like to make forecasts, but Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier are and they’ve got an interesting piece out: What Would the End of Football Look Like?

… This slow death march could easily take 10 to 15 years. Imagine the timeline. A couple more college players — or worse, high schoolers — commit suicide with autopsies showing CTE. A jury makes a huge award of $20 million to a family. A class-action suit shapes up with real legs, the NFL keeps changing its rules, but it turns out that less than concussion levels of constant head contact still produce CTE. Technological solutions (new helmets, pads) are tried and they fail to solve the problem. Soon high schools decide it isn’t worth it. The Ivy League quits football, then California shuts down its participation, busting up the Pac-12. Then the Big Ten calls it quits, followed by the East Coast schools. Now it’s mainly a regional sport in the southeast and Texas/Oklahoma. The socioeconomic picture of a football player becomes more homogeneous: poor, weak home life, poorly educated. Ford and Chevy pull their advertising, as does IBM and eventually the beer companies.

Not to mention the rapes. Cowen’s earlier post raises the question of why watching football games increases assaults and domestic violence, while watching violent movies reduces violence. Complements and substitutes is how those economists put it. Meanwhile the Chronicle has a story on declining interest in college basketball – apparently it’s not just at Oregon:

More than 70 Division I men’s basket­ball programs—about one out of every five—have seen their regular-season attendance fall by 20 percent or more over the past four seasons, a Chronicle analysis has found. And while many colleges have had significant gains, the declines have left big budget holes in some athletic departments and could lead to major changes in the game.

The falloff has been particularly sharp in the Pacific-12 Conference, where fan support has dropped 14 percent since 2009. Arizona State, Washington State, and UCLA have all seen their home attendance decline by more than a third in the past four years. Arizona State, with an arena that seats over 14,000 fans, attracted an average of just 5,411 per game this season.

The Atlantic Coast Conference, historically one of the strongest basketball leagues, has had a 7-percent slide since 2009, with average attendance falling below 10,000 fans a game for the first time in recent history. Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are both off by more than 2,500 spectators per game from 2009, and even Duke University has seen interest in its rabid student section wane. 

They attribute the disinterest to the increase in other entertainment options.

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6 Responses to Big-time college sports a dying industry?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dog says

    Thanks for this post – nice diversion and interesting to contemplate. I think the most probably scenario that will emerge, with increasing medical evidence of real damage, is
    that high school football will disappear and
    that spills directly into the ability for colleges to find and recruit the best players and that creates the ripple effect.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Matt Court is what killed Duck basketball for me. It’s a generic, soulless video filled big-box. What’s the point of trying to find parking? But it’s hard to imagine what could substitute for the thrill of watching the big hits in college football. Although now that I think about it the entire rest of the world prefers soccer. But heading can’t be good for the brain either.

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  3. Gordon Sayre says:

    I totally agree about Matt Court. When I was fighting it in 2007-08 because it cost too much and we can’t afford it, I had no idea how tedious basketball would become when I watched it in that building. I knew already that I didn’t care for basketball (I’d rather watch hockey), but then I sat down in Matt Court and saw that, unless one is in the first few rows, the players’ images on the TV screen are larger than on the court itself. The absurdity of it all became clear. TV money is what drives college sports, and yet TV destroys the entire experience. The commercials destroy the continuity of the game for players and fans and TV viewers.
    For that $200 million imagine what we could have done for our university, if only Phil Knight could agree that basketball is boring!

    Gordon Sayre
    Prof. of English and 2007-08 Senate President

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Agreed, sad day when Mac court closed. Best games eva’ there. The new court puts you up in the rafters and it is hard to see the players for the trees on the court. Also note the dates of the decline in national college basketball attendance. Coincides with the great recession. Could that be one reason attendance is down? But then, UOMatters is no economist!

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  5. UO Matters says:

    Good point. UO Matters is no macro-economist. But actually the timing seems a bit far off to try and build a case for Granger-causality. Not that I’m an econometrician.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Dog eats econometricians for breakfast ..

      but spits them out later …

      Kind of to Professor Sayres point.

      There are credible studies of the Arena size dependence on the local population within a radius of X around the event site. For the site of
      Matt Court, the proper sized arena would have been 8000-10,000 and not
      the unfilled 12,400 seats. More to the point, the basketball produce (men or women’s) is not competitive enough to come even close to filling that
      venue. This was pointed out many times during the construction. Matt
      Court is clearly the physical monument to Dave. F.

      For those interested in actual data about this go here

      One example, then University of Rhode Island’s arena built in 2002 and seats
      7900 cots $54 million. There is really no justification for our arena costing more than $100 million. Matt Court is a living monument to greed, self-indulgence, insanity, and style over substance.

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