James Madison University, my current employer, recently commissioned an “overall strategic plan” for its athletics program. Revealed to the public in an admirable gesture of institutional transparency, the plan claims that JMU is “well-positioned” for a transition to the highest level of college sports, the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Though administrators are open to the idea of moving on up, the James Madison faculty, myself included, is substantially less enthused. Why do the vast majority of us oppose the move?
First, we worry about the numbers. There is no question that FBS programs are risky investments and that they’re correlated with disproportionately high levels of institutional athletics funding. (Statements to the contrary may reflect a conflict of interest, like when the company that produced your feasibility study is also retained to recruit your new head coach.) There’s also widespread concern about endorsing a financial scheme dependent on unpaid labor for its solvency, labor that may one day be declared illegal. And yes, longtime professors who saw their salaries frozen for five years are viscerally upset by a plan that suggests hiking student fees to fund a major investment in our football program.