The Value of Sports – 2017

Whitewater has had athletic successes in our district and on campus. Our high school and local university have witnessed impressive state & national accomplishments. Few cities have done so well. It’s been my pleasure to attend and cheer for Whitewater’s high school and college teams. I was graduated from another school, but like so many residents (college and non-college), the success of UW-Whitewater’s athletes and coaches is admirable to me.

For those on campus: to you who have competed, and to those who have coached you, belong first and foremost those efforts and those accomplishments. Others (as I do) may wish you well and cheer you on, but these achievements are yours, enduringly and incorruptibly.

Not long ago, UW-Whitewater produced a supposed assessment of the economic value to the community of the university’s athletic programs. (See, from 11.18.15, It’s not much of a study, really, and its problem is not in the method (although that hardly seems strong), but in the very concept the report advances. (Conceptual failure is a deeper failing than method, by far.)

The brief summary, described as a report, isn’t written like a report at all – it’s written with an introduction that’s more press release than anything else:

With more than 550 participating athletes and fourteen national championships in the last ten years, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is a pinnacle of NCAA Division collegiate athletics. These athletic events bring an average of 54,910 people to the area every year, which has a profound economic impact on the immediate area….

So what’s wrong with the report? Conceptually, it’s flawed, even on its own terms: the economic value of athletic programs to the community is what the programs bring into Whitewater absent their presence. That is, the economic value is their incremental addition to the community.

This study fallaciously assumes that absent the presence of these programs, there would be no alternative economic activity to replace the programs under consideration. Economic activity is not a choice merely between a given impact from athletics and, let’s say, the alternative of no activity (as in, for example, a community afflicted with catatonia).

Understand what I’m saying: I support these programs, but this report fails to determine the right number for their value to the community. It’s just a flimsy analysis.

Since the study comes from a university, that’s a troubling thing.

The report was, however, certainly convenient, as it allowed UW-Whitewater’s Media Relations director Sara Kuhl to cite the study in reply to a Gannett Media investigative report on how UW-Whitewater has been giving out championship rings to non-athletes and non-coaches. See, from Gannett, UW school pays $112,000 for sports rings @ USA Today Network – Wisconsin.  For my own assessment of this – that rings are deserved for athletes and coaches, but not administrators, etc. – see, At UW-Whitewater, Far More Championship Rings Than Actual Athletes & Coaches.


(There is something, however, that this report does prove, conclusively, I think.  This report proves that there are versions of fishing lures that work on humans.  Just as fish will bite on any shiny thing that comes along, so both the Daily Union and Banner bit on Ms. Kuhl’s press release without question or reflection.

For the Banner, this was actually a top story of the year.  Next up, one guesses: Whitewater Cow Jumps Over the Moon, Innovation Center Patents Leaches as Medical Cure, and Cloning the Same Resident Fifteen-Thousand Times Will Fix Everything.)

For athletes and coaches: you don’t need this flimsy study to prove your worth to our community.  In your honest efforts on the court and on the field – win or lose – you already prove that worth, every single day.

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