It’s easy to say that football players at the University of Oregon get preferential treatment. After all, the university recently unveiled a $68 million, six-story football facility that contains everything from a specialty cafeteria to luxurious locker rooms and players’ lounges. Before other Oregon students can claim neglect, however, they should know that Oregon alum and founder of Nike, Phil Knight, not the university itself, funded the facility. In fact, Knight has donated over $300 million to Oregon’s athletic programs over the years.
While some students too quickly criticize their football-playing peers for living in luxury, they should remember that not every college is fortunate enough to be the University of Nike, as Oregon is affectionately called by its beneficiaries and less affectionately by its opponents. Even there, football is considered the exception, not the rule. Football brings in over 67% of all athletic revenue at Oregon, which means that all the other sports don’t always break even when the season ends. Unlike top-grossing programs such as Oregon, Alabama, and Texas, many college athletic programs struggle to procure as many funds as they use.
So, students may ask, where does the money to fund all these athletic expenses come from? Despite beliefs to the contrary, the amount of student tuition money that goes towards sports is actually little to none. At the University of Cincinnati, a mere $168 per semester from each student’s tuition goes towards athletic funding. The other millions of dollars are raised by licensing agreements, media coverage, and alumni donations.
However, student fans have a value that can’t be measured by the price of their ticket or tuition bill. Student support of their sports teams is truly a give and take relationship. In addition to giving a small amount of their tuition, students bolster attendance at sporting events, create school spirit, and in return can feel a sense of ownership in their team’s wins and losses.
College athletes and their cheering counterparts work hand in hand to create successful sports teams. The Duke University men’s basketball program, a perennial powerhouse, owes part of its success to the student section known as the Cameron Crazies.
Named for Duke’s basketball arena, Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Crazies paint their bodies blue and line the court, heckling opponents and creating a chaotic environment. Their impact is felt by all teams who visit the arena; Duke hasn’t lost to a non-conference opponent at home since 2000.
Across the country, athletes appreciate the contribution of their fans as well. Chantal, a college basketball player, says that “the fans definitely have the ability to get into the opponent’s heads, and they give me more energy and desire to perform well”.
Without the support of student sections, athletic programs suffer. Long after they’re gone, alumni continue to give back to the programs that defined their college experiences. Richard Southall, director of College Sports Research Institute, expresses his concern about students’ decreasing interest in sports. “You’re trying to turn those current students into former students who are still fans decades later. You want students, when they become alumni, to have that attachment and come back for the games”.
While they’re there, though, students are an instrumental part of their school’s athletic success. Imagine a game-winning buzzer beater without a student section storming the court. The scene certainly wouldn’t make an ESPN highlight reel or generate as much excitement. Regardless of the economics, students are both athletes and fans, and together they sustain the world of college sports.
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