Wednesday, January 05, 2005

It's the Aura

Was it UC's Clark Kerr who memorably mentioned that the alumni want college sports (successes), the undergrads want sex and the faculty want parking?

In I am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe has a lot to say about two of the three. Big-time college basketball are nicely rendered -- as was big-time college football in A Man in Full.

My team had a dream football season, capped by last night's Orange Bowl sweet victory.

The NCAA, every economist knows, is an exploitative cartel. Sanctimonious university presidents (and other enablers) shell out big bucks to the coaching staff (and others) while insisting that the "amateur" nature of the sport requires that they abide the cartel.

Whereas some top schools have stopped playing (U. of Chicago is everyone's favorite example), other top schools are models for Wolfe's novel (Duke and Stanford). What are they thinking? The big revenues do not justify the big expenditures. Yet, Wolfe reports, these places know what they are doing. "It's the aura," he writes.

I think he's right. The market value of all of my students' diplomas became slightly greater overnight. Exploiting a few black males (and some others), the university brass would say, is justified.

It's the aura.