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May 07, 2004

As Rice Goes, So Goes All Of Non-BCS?

FROM THINK TANK McKINSEY & CO. comes the mother of all reports on college athletics, a gargantuan 121 page volume replete with all manner of charts, tables and graphs--but no pictures.

Commissioned by Rice University, the masterpiece is modestly entitled “Intercollegiate Athletics at Rice University,” but it is actually a comprehensive overview snapshot of Division I-A.

By way of exhaustive--and sometimes overdone—analysis of grad rates, SAT / GPA gaps, TV money, NCAA infractions, peer group schools and athletics budgets, the report validates many things that we knew already. Most notably:

1. the Division I-A “arms race” is spiraling dangerously
2. the distance between haves (read: BCS) and have-nots (read: non-BCS) is ever increasing
3. academic stalwarts like Rice--and Northwestern, and Baylor, and Vanderbilt—are hard-pressed to be competitive

While most observers of college athletics are well aware of these realities, never before have they been presented with such a glut of research to back it up.

More specific to Rice University, the report provided the following tidbits:

• With 2800 students, Rice is the second smallest school in Division I-A (only Tulsa has less students).
• Rice has one of the highest grad rates in Division I-A: 81% in 2003.
• Rice athletes admitted in 2003 had an average SAT of 1130; the overall student body average was 1426.
• Rice has one of the highest percentages of athletes relative to the entire student body in Division I-A: athletes are 12.1% of the entire student body (overall Division I-A average is 4.0%) … only Air Force, Army, Stanford and Tulsa have higher percentages in Div. I-A.
• Rice is one of only 20 schools in Div. I-A never to have been sanctioned by the NCAA.
• Rice’s football team has not earned a bowl invitation (or bowl revenues) in 42 years.
• Rice’s athletic department has a $10 million deficit.

The Rice faculty is clearly not supportive of the continuation of big sports at Rice. In a faculty poll, more than half supported dropping Rice athletics to Division III. Thomas Haskell, a member of the Faculty Council, told the Houston Chronicle, "There is a strong sense on campus that playing in Division I-A is an absurdity for a school the size, character and selectivity of Rice."

The report offered four solutions for Rice trustees consideration: to remain in Division I-A, or to drop to Division I-AA, Division I-AAA (with no football team), or to drop to Division III. The trustees will make their decision by the end of May.

The report summarized Rice’s dilemma when it said, “The bottom line is demographics," Only a handful of universities -- Duke, Notre Dame, and Stanford -- "have a geographic or legacy advantage or possess powerful traditions ... [but] there are not many athletes left for the Vanderbilts, Baylors, Tulanes, and Rices."

Will Rice be the first of the non-BCS schools to bolt Division I-A? Most think it’s an even bet at this point.

(this 495 word excerpt was distilled from a 910 word article in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram of 5-6-04, a 550 word article in The Chronicle of Higher Education of 5-6-04, and the McKinsey report “Intercollegiate Athletics at Rice University,” a 121 page, thousands of words and hundreds of charts and graphs volume—available in its pdf entirety at http://professor.rice.edu/images/professor/report.pdf)