Winning is good!
You might think that everyone would agree with this simple statement, but reasonable people on college campuses realize that the value of intercollegiate athletics is more complicated than that. They might concede that winning has benefits, but they also understand that fielding successful Division I sports teams is costly.
Some of those costs are obvious—athletic scholarships, salaries, travel, facilities and equipment. But other costs are not as apparent—lowering admission standards to accept more outstanding athletes, pulling resources away from other needs and dealing with negative publicity when a high-profile student-athlete encounters a problem.
All of those costs are necessary for a university to field winning Division I teams. So in order for winning to be “good,” the benefits of an athletic program must outweigh those costs.
Of course, cost-benefit analysis applies to all components of a university, whether it is the library, the dining hall, the manicured campus or the academic programs. All must produce benefits that exceed their direct and indirect costs.
So is winning good at the University of Richmond? To answer that question, we must first look at the value of intercollegiate athletics from the perspectives of its various constituencies.
First and foremost, it is vital that intercollegiate athletics enhance our student-athletes’ overall Richmond experience. The athletic department’s No. 1 priority is providing a positive athletic experience for them. This includes academic advising, tutoring, conditioning, strength training, medical care, travel, coaching and competitive opportunities.
We recruit talented young men and women to the campus with the promise of athletic and academic success, and we strive to keep that promise in both areas. Spider sports teams have won 30 conference championships during the past seven years. And more importantly, our student-athletes have received 660 championship rings during those years. They have matched their sports success with academic achievement. Our student-athletes graduate at a rate commensurate with the overall student body. Academically, they rank in the top 5 percent of all institutions who compete in Division I athletics.
Another important constituency is alumni. Winning teams are rallying points for Richmond alumni, especially for those who live outside the area. For many alumni, athletics are their primary contact with the University after they graduate, and with the advent of streaming video, they can watch the Spiders via their computers from anywhere in the world.
Our local alumni clearly demonstrate the value they see in Richmond athletics by purchasing more than 80 percent of the season tickets for football and men’s basketball.
Spider sports also provide value to the community. A high-profile sport, such as men’s basketball, can shine a national spotlight on the entire Richmond area. Local businesses and charities can promote their products and services through affiliations with the University’s athletic teams, and the teams provide entertainment opportunities to all local residents.
Last but not least, Richmond athletics is valuable to the University community. A winning team is one of the best ways to bring students, staff, faculty and alumni together and get them excited about being Spiders. Student attendance at intercollegiate athletic events is the best indicator of their perception of the value of the athletics program, and we have seen significant demonstrations of this support.
Now that we have reviewed the value of Richmond athletics, can we answer the question of whether the benefits outweigh the costs? Do we now know whether “winning is good” at the University of Richmond?
I certainly believe it is, but there will always be those who disagree or are skeptical, and that’s OK. In fact, questioning the value of intercollegiate athletics provides a constant impetus to improve our results … to recruit the best student-athletes … to attract the best coaches … to educate the student-athletes … and to win!
Jim Miller is the University’s director of intercollegiate athletics.