The Big 10 Universities: Integrity for Sale Long Before the Big Ten Network
Look, the Confidential understands conference realignment. The Big East was a dumpster fire for several years after the defections of Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami. If Maryland cannot balance its budget, imagine how Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia, Utah, Rutgers, and TCU felt trying to do the same on 1/2 the revenue (or less). The Confidential also understands that the TV revenue at issue is real and can fairly be a factor in the realignment decision. As blogs like Frank the Tank pointed out, you cannot look at expansion without considering the impact on TV revenue. This is the very concept that makes Rutgers and its athletic futility more valuable than UConn and its multiple national championships and BCS appearance. The Big 10’s selection of Nebraska showed that on-field product still mattered. But this latest expansion into Maryland and New Jersey is solely about money. Unfortunately, this is nothing new–it is just more of the same money-obsession from large, public universities that thrive on research dollars.
In fact, if you look at Frank the Tank’s blog, you’ll see that research dollars are discussed with pride. A university engaging in $300,000,000 a year in research is deemed “better” than a university that only takes in $100,000,000 a year. There are rankings and everything, both for comparing current Big 10 teams and differentiating prospective ones. Apparently, the only criteria for measuring research is the volume. And the measurement of volume is dollars. The more the better, regardless of where it comes from and whether it is useful research. Well, this same approach now applies to the Big Ten and its television network. It does not matter what is being shown on television, it only matters that it is being shown on television and generating revenue. Much like research dollars, the only metric that matters is revenue.
The problem, of course, is that research pretends to be objective. But, as Discover magazine noted several years ago, the trend in research is vastly different than it was approximately 50 years ago:
In 1965, the federal government financed more than 60 percent of all R&D in the United States. By 2006, the balance had flipped, with 65 percent of R&D in this country being funded by private interests.
The conflict of interest becomes obvious. If research is “for sale,” the integrity of that research soon follows. If State University takes the $10,000,000 research grant from Conglomerate X, can it conclude that Conglomerate X’s product is dangerous and still get a similar grant the following year? When you hear that study indicating that using bleach kills 99% of harmful germs, you then hear that it was a study financed by a company that sells bleach. When you hear that studies show pork to be a healthy alternative to chicken, we the hear that the study was financed by the pork industry. And so on.
None of this is meant to condemn all research, much less any specific research. We all hope that cures for diseases are around the corner. Of course, there is a problem when there is a financial incentive to never find that cure. If you get $10,000,000 a year for cancer research, curing cancer will mean a reduction in revenue. This is a corporate conflict of interest problem. It should not be trickling down to Universities beholden to corporate research.
Strictly speaking, there is no reason why Universities cannot be corporations and maximize revenue to the exclusion of any other particular moral obligations. But there IS a problem with Universities doing so and pretending to be something other than for-profit industries. The Confidential just noted the absurdity in not taxing Division I sports revenue. Well, there needs to be taxation on Universities that are engaging in this level of research. If you want to be a business, be a business. If you want to be a tax-free educational institution, cut off the flow from corporate interests.
Although one has to move yet another step beyond sports for a moment, ask yourself where the United States stands in 2012 compared to 1965. While there are many reasons for it, we no longer “trust” government. Does anyone see “FDA Approval” and feel comfortable? As Yale Scientific Magazine notes, the FDA admitted to wrongdoing in 2010 with respect to the approval of a medical device. If you are not skeptical, go get yourself some Vioxx. Can we even trust science any more? Perhaps not if the science is being funded only by interested parties.
Like research, we hope that athletics is also objective. While people watch figure skating and gymnastics with their subjective scoring in great numbers, many more fans prefer the objectivity of score-based sports. The better team wins, and you can look at the scoreboard to see who wins. But as money completely takes over sports, the corresponding loss of integrity and objectivity will suffer. It is not a surprise that the Big 10 athletic conference cares more about the money it generates than anything else. This is consistent with the research focus of such Universities. One has to question when this will, like the FDA, spill over into a lack of integrity on the field. If all that matters is money, wouldn’t it be prudent and expected for the Big 10 to ensure that 10-0 Ohio State beats 5-5 Maryland in 2018? Maryland should willingly accept its loss because the following week’s Ohio State-Michigan game will generate more TV revenue, to the benefit of all. Well, at least as it relates to the only criteria that matters to large, public universities–money.
Carry on, Big 10. Carry on.