Commentary: Athletic dept. 'gift' really isn't a gift

This editorial appeared in The State.

Perhaps you shouldn't look a gift chicken in the beak, but there was something more than a little off-putting about all the self-congratulation and awe that accompanied the USC athletics department's recent "contribution" of $15 million to the university to help pay for ... academics.

This clearly is a large amount of money that has the potential to do a great deal of good at a school that is struggling under state budget cuts and the larger economic crisis. Just as clearly, such a gift is extraordinary and such a gesture, in the words of one USC trustee, "historic and symbolic."

But there shouldn't be anything extraordinary — certainly not "historic" — about university money being used to further the core mission of the university. In fact, it should be expected — the sort of thing that deserves commentary only in its absence. As difficult a concept as this seems to be, money generated by the athletics department, or any other part of a university, belongs to the university.

Yes, yes, we realize that athletic departments operating as entities unto themselves is the way of the world, that the same thing goes on to a greater or lesser extent at pretty much every big college, but it can't be said too often that athletics departments are part of their universities, would not exist apart from those universities and as such should not have final say over how revenues generated by athletic endeavors are spent.

In fact, this "contribution" could actually have the effect of warding off just this sort of criticism. Not just at USC, but throughout the Southeastern Conference, whose commissioner recently encouraged athletic departments to share the extra wealth that would be coming their way under the conference's new TV contract. (It's worth noting that the Gamecocks' "contribution" represents just a tenth of the $150 million windfall the department could receive — nearly doubling its current TV take.)

To read the complete editorial, visit The State.