The Equity in Athletics Data Analysis shows that between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years, Bowdoin’s annual athletic recruiting expenses grew 162 percent, from $30,966 to $81,018, an increase made possible by the NESCAC’s elimination of its cap on recruitment spending. According to the athletic department, the budget increase has been directed primarily towards recruitment efforts aimed at supplementing geographic and racial diversity within Bowdoin sports teams.
If this money leads to a more diverse student-athlete population at the College, it is without a doubt worth the investment. An increase in the recruiting budget is especially worthwhile given that recruiting expenses account for less than one percent of the total $10 million athletic budget. Although there has been a fairly significant increase in geographic (up 40 percent) and racial (up 24 percent) diversity among athletes in the last two years, there is no way of knowing whether correlation implies causation in this case, because Bowdoin’s athletic department remains relatively tight-lipped about where its money goes.
We think that the College should make public more detailed information about the use of athletic funding. Debates about the value and effects of athletics at the College, whether they be over the worth of maintaining a losing football program or the perceived cultural division between athletes and non-athletes, are perennial. But these debates frequently suffer from a simple lack of hard data. How much do these programs really cost? Is the money being divided equitably between different sports? Does a team’s revenue correlate with its budget?
These discussions would be much aided by access to clear and extensive data. While the Equity in Athletics database provides some information on the financing of sports teams, it hardly paints a comprehensive picture of how that money is spent. For example, the raw data suggests that the men’s tennis team, which spends the most money per participant of any team at the College, is burning through cash. But the data doesn’t show that the team consistently competes in NCAA Division III national championships, which could contribute to abnormally large travel expenses. Or at least, that’s what we guess.
The problem, in short, is that we have to guess at all. Because the data set doesn’t provide breakdowns of how teams spend their budgets, the conclusions that can be drawn from the data are severely limited. This lack of clarity, in turn, hinders discussions about the value of athletics and breeds suspicion among skeptics. For the sake of transparency, the athletic department should present a more complete picture of its spending.
We are aware that we are holding the athletic department to a higher standard of transparency than we ask many other on-campus groups. Yet athletics, as opposed to other departments or programs, has the power to influence admissions decisions, social dynamics and even the class schedule. Influence needs to be held accountable.
In many ways, Bowdoin abides by the status quo. Colby’s or Amherst’s athletic directors, for example, do not disclose the the details of their respective budgetary priorities. Nevertheless, for the sake of painting a more complete picture of both the strengths and weaknesses of Bowdoin’s athletic programs, the College should not hesitate to distinguish itself from its peer institutions.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Harry DiPrinzio, Dakota Griffin, Calder McHugh and Ian Ward.