Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Map attack

Geography has always fascinated me. As far back as fourth grade, I can remember poking through encyclopedias and being fascinated by entries on countries I never knew existed. Sometimes all it took was a cool-looking flag (Kenya was a particular favorite) to get me hooked. It was right around that time that my school started holding a geography bee -- like a spelling bee, only with less spelling and more geography. After being in the running in fifth and sixth grade, I came in second in my school (to brainiac and all-around good egg Paul Steinbeck) in seventh grade and finally claimed victory the following year.

That love of geography has stayed with me, so I can't help but have my head turned when I see an interesting map. Gizmodo flagged up just such a map this week, a map of the United States identifying each state by the brand for which it is best-known. The map is the work of Steve Lovelace. (HT Joe. My. God.)

For Nebraska, Cabela's might not leap immediately to mind if you're not into hunting or fishing, but with 2012 revenue topping $3 billion, it's hard to question its inclusion. Check the links if some of the states are too small to read. You might not immediately recognize the Hawaiian Airlines logo with so little of it showing. Also, Microsoft might be a better option for Washington than Starbucks, but the creator didn't go into his methodology and, given how far he likely had to dig to find some of these companies, I'm not inclined to quibble.

There's another fun map below the fold.

And by "fun," I mean ever-so-slightly sickening. Is your state's highest-paid employee a sportsball coach? Probably. (HT to PZ Myers)

This, of course, is hardly news to my fellow Nebraskans. Still, it makes you wonder about some people's priorities when the average football coach rakes in three times as much as the average university president.

"But! But!" I hear you shouting. "But look at all the money these athletic programs bring in! These coaches earn every penny!" Do they now? The good people at Deadspin would beg to differ.
  1. Coaches don't generate revenue on their own; you could make the exact same case for the student-athletes who actually play the game and score the points and fracture their legs.
  2. It can be tough to attribute this revenue directly to the performance of the head coach. In 2011-2012, Mack Brown was paid $5 million to lead a mediocre 8-5 Texas team to the Holiday Bowl. The team still generated $103.8 million in revenue, the most in college football. You don't have to pay someone $5 million to make college football profitable in Texas.
  3. This revenue rarely makes its way back to the general funds of these universities. Looking at data from 2011-2012, athletic departments at 99 major schools lost an average of $5 million once you take out revenue generated from "student fees" and "university subsidies." If you take out "contributions and donations"—some of which might have gone to the universities had they not been lavished on the athletic departments—this drops to an average loss of $17 million, with just one school (Army) in the black. All this football/basketball revenue is sucked up by coach and AD salaries, by administrative and facility costs, and by the athletic department's non-revenue generating sports; it's not like it's going to microscopes and Bunsen burners.
And then there's this: The vast majority of athletic departments at public Division I universities need subsidies in the form of student fees.
Just 23 of 228 athletics departments at NCAA Division I public schools generated enough money on their own to cover their expenses in 2012. Of that group, 16 also received some type of subsidy — and 10 of those 16 athletics departments received more subsidy money in 2012 than they did in 2011.
The median subsidy increase for those 10 programs was a little more than $160,000. Relative to these programs' budgets, that's a small amount, but the increases were part of a huge rise in the subsidies provided for major-college sports programs as a whole. Subsidies for all of Division I athletics rose by nearly $200 million compared to what they were 2011. That is the greatest year-over-year dollar increase in the subsidy total since USA TODAY Sports began collecting finance information that schools annually report to the NCAA.
Is it that much of a boon when barely one out of every five schools at college football's most lucrative table reaches an overall profit? Is it really worth it for these supposed institutions of higher education to shovel millions of dollars each year into football in the vain hope of one day emulating Boise State and becoming the darling of ESPN? Moreover, how low of an opinion must you have of people if you believe giving out athletic scholarships is the only way to ensure a diverse student body at public universities, or that well-off alumni wouldn't give back to their alma mater if there weren't sports teams around which to rally?

As for the matter of college athletes putting their bodies on the line for free in the name of glory and school spirit, I leave the last word to noted philosopher Zach Weinersmith.

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