The Vikings deal isn’t the exception, it’s the rule. It might even be kind of a bargain. The Atlanta Falcons, owned by a billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, are getting a $1.2 billion pleasure dome built with hundreds of millions of tax dollars. The team gets to sell seat licenses and naming fees and keeps all revenue generated by the facility. In The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America, Gregg Easterbrook writes that public dollars have covered about “87 percent of the total capital cost of NFL stadia“ even though there is zero reason to believe that publicly funded sports facilities ever pay back their costs by increasing overall economic activity or putting more tax revenue in government coffers.
At the college level, the subsidies take different forms but are just as misguided. In a recent interview, Easterbrook told me that Rutgers’ athletics programs get a subsidy from the university of about $29 million a year, the lion’s share of which goes to the Scarlet Knights football team. As the flagship state university of New Jersey, that money is not only coming out of tuition and fees paid by students but out of the pockets of Garden State taxpayers.
As with NFL stadium deals, such lavish, publicly financed gifts are the norm for college football. With the exception of a tiny handful of programs – Ohio State, University of Texas, LSU, and perhaps three or four more – virtually every athletic program at every public NCAA Division I school is subsidized even as administrators plead poverty when it comes to resources for faculty and, as you know, education. Especially in an age of busted government budgets, even the most rabid sports fan should agree that it’s an outrage that the highest-paid public employee in a majority of states is a college football coach (in another 13, it’s a basketball coach). It’s far better to be broke and have a cellar-dwelling NFL franchise, right?