With the recent addition of the $90 million Luth Athletic Complex to the Holy Cross campus, which included new coaches’ offices, weight rooms, basketball courts, a hockey rink, swimming pools, and an indoor turf field, it seems appropriate to consider spending in college athletics and whether the increase in dollars translates to greater success. On average, schools in the Power Five conferences spend millions of dollars annually on athletics and one million on recruiting alone. With new TV deals, continuous revenue and continued fundraising, these schools are able to allocate more money towards athletics, specifically their biggest revenue builders such as football and men’s and women’s basketball.
The measure of success for collegiate athletic departments comes in the form of the Director’s Cup, which awards athletics departments points based on finishes in NCAA championships and media-based polls. Looking at the top finishers since the Cup started in 1994, there are some big spenders like Penn State who finished an average of 9th in the past five years while spending a combined average of $2.2 million per year, or Georgia who finished an average of 14th and spent $2.5 million per year. Yet, schools don’t necessarily have to empty their bank account to achieve these high finishes. Stanford, who has averaged first place in the Director’s Cup every year is just the 37th biggest spender with just over $1.1 million spent annually (according to Forbes). This raises the question: what makes these schools so successful despite spending far less than their competitors?
The University of Rhode Island Men’s Basketball team represents yet another program which has proven that money does not automatically translate to athletic success. In a mid-major Division I conference with a small recruiting budget and no scholarships, how has the team made 9 NCAA championship appearances? Their coach Bob Walsh attributes it to how they build their teams. “Our mantra is ‘Entitled to Nothing,’” explains the head coach. The school’s “no-excuses approach” is the perfect attitude for the type of hungry players the school attracts and thrives on (Forbes).
Where there is some correlation between dollars and domination in college athletics, the trend is essentially non-existent in most professional sports. Take the NFL or NHL for instance; no matter the amount of money that teams in both sports spend on players, there is a weak correlation, if at all, between spending and success. Considering the $6.53 billion in total salaries paid out by all NFL teams combined in the 2017-18 season, that is saying something (Statista).
Despite these statistics, I doubt the world of collegiate athletics and professional sports will stop spending millions in pursuit of winning programs and championships. However, it should give those involved, from fans and administration to coaches and players, a more holistic look at what building a good program really takes. If not money, then what aspect can predict success? Sure, nice facilities with ample practice space and amenities are helpful, but the real building blocks of a winning program cannot be bought, as numerous statistics show. At the collegiate level, especially for smaller programs, environment, team chemistry and recruitmenting success are key.
As the “arms race” continues with schools gaining more revenue and trying to fund the best facilities and players, where will Holy Cross fall and how will we approach this trend? Will it become a school that maximizes its available athletics spending, will it simply try to outspend its competition, or will it keep in mind that more spending does not automatically translate to more success? Only time will tell.