hoop dreams

What the eagerness of college presidents to have Div I athletics has wrought: The following basketball teams comprise an actual, current college basketball conference (the Great West): Chicago State University, Houston Baptist “University”, New Jersey Institute of Technology, University of North Dakota, University of South Dakota, University of Texas-Pan American, Utah Valley University.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

4 thoughts on “hoop dreams”

  1. Yes, because Newark, NJ is the first city that comes to mind when we think of the great west.

    HBU’s “about us” page includes a lengthy statement about NCAA certification. It’s longer than the President’s welcome, mission statement, and the “ten pillars” (vision statement).


  2. NJIT is a good school, but it really doesn’t–or at least shouldn’t–have the budget to send the basketball team on all those road games. (Though at least Houston is another CO hub.)

    HBU offers several Master’s programs, but no Doctoral ones. Still, it clearly qualifies as a University–no “quotes”–and its emphasis on being accredited makes perfect sense.

    UT-PA, iirc, used to be in the Sun Belt. Did they have budget cuts?


  3. I get a kick out of the fact that there are four Division 1 athletic programs in the Dakotas; all of them adopted in the past ten years, in what I’d imagine was borne out of the usual isomorphic pressures (e.g., emulation and “keeping up with the Joneses.”).

    So many schools were moving up to D-1, that the NCAA placed a moratorium on such moves a few years ago. Low-status schools schedule “guarantee games”, where they play elite teams on the road, almost certainly get blown out, and get a paycheck that sometimes stretches into six figures in basketball. I presume these payouts are even higher in football (a sport where blow-outs probably pose higher injury risks for student athletes on the losing team). While such sums are trivial to elite D-1 programs, a few of these games (often plus generous underwriting from student fees and other accounting moves from university administrations) can fund entire D-1 athletic programs at the types of small vagabond schools that comprise the Great West Conference. The larger program gets another W on the record (to cosmetically improve post-season prospects) and another revenue-drawing home game, so it’s a win-win situation, and I think explains part of the explanation why the D-1 niche has expanded into small and peripheral institutions.

    This phenomenon also brings forth the issue of “choosing the right pond.” I’m sure some alumni, administrators, students and power-brokers at places like Presbyterian and Bryant get a kick out of showing up on the ESPN ticker and getting to rub shoulders on the hardwood or gridiron versus prominent, if not famous universities. On the other hand, is that halo effect worth the constant losses, loss of links to geographically/institutionally similar schools, and being the cellar-dwellers of D-1?

    The University of Montana recently made the decision to not move up to Div-1, when given an opportunity to join the crumbling Western Athletic Conference. Interestingly, their old rival and neighbor, Idaho, moved up to the WAC in the past decade, and has taken a ton of losses on the hardwood and gridiron, but has made money. Montana has been an elite 1-AA program that has enjoyed championships and acclaim, but has an athletic department in the red (I can probably find the source if asked).

    While I think the economics of college sports that create these incentives are problematic (academically, morally, efficiency-wise, etc.), it does pose an interesting status dilemma in social science. The tradeoffs between being the small fish in the big pond and the big fish in the small pond are not necessarily symmetrical, or at least perceived that way, by various non-Great White Sharks.

    (Apologies for the longwinded post, if this wasn’t your cup of tea; it was the combination of the remnants of a research project that never got off the ground, and a long layover in an airport with free Wifi.)


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