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News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
Athletes need a good night's sleep to maximize their performance. But that doesn't explain why N.C. State's proposed new dormitory for basketball players will cost roughly four times as much per bed than other campus living quarters do.
It seems pretty clear that the dormitory is due to N.C. State's participation in the ever-escalating arms race to attract top athletic talent in the revenue-producing sports of football and basketball. Luxury accommodations and lavish perks appear to be the minimum required to draw athletes capable of winning championships and bringing in big TV revenue from bowl games and March Madness.
The dormitory story began in 2015. N.C. State's athletics director, Debbie Yow, wanted to build a new residence hall for the school's basketball players, following the examples of the Universities of Kansas and Kentucky. The University of Kentucky spent $7.9 million and the University of Kansas spent $12 million for upscale dorms for student-athletes, which were stocked with theaters, private chefs, a barber shop and other amenities.
N.C. State's administration has long sought to rise to the upper echelon in college athletics, and to do so requires top talent. So plans were made for the new basketball dormitory, to be known as Case Commons Residence Hall.
There will be 65 beds for students, with 30 reserved exclusively for student-athletes and 35 used by non-athletes. There is a certain craftiness to this arrangement. The National Collegiate Athletics Association has strict rules regarding special treatment for student-athletes, one of which is that residential buildings must contain at least 51 percent non-athlete students.
In order to move forward with the project, N.C. State had to gain approval from the UNC Board of Governors. Three members voted against the project. One of the dissenters, Marty Kotis of Greensboro, said that the construction was simply too expensive to justify. "I think most families out there would view four students being housed for a million dollars as an extravagant amount," said Kotis, a real estate developer.
Despite those board members' resistance, N.C. State received approval to move forward with the plan from both the Board of Governors and the state legislature. Construction is now planned to start sometime in 2018, with an estimated completion time of the following summer.
Why does N.C. State need such lavish housing?
Having all the basketball players in one location, Yow said, will provide security with "limited access from outside parties." This is a reference to a previous incident in which an "agent-type" violated an NCAA rule in 2011 by giving $1,100 to a player's family while visiting him in off-campus housing.
The executive director of the Wolfpack Club, Bobby Purcell, argued that Case Commons dormitory will promote the academics. The residence hall will be positioned in the heart of campus next to Case Academic Center and a dining hall, which are both designated specifically for student-athletes.
Perhaps the most obvious argument against Case Commons Residence Hall is its price tag. The building is projected to cost about $15 million, which brings the price-per-bed to roughly $230,000. The average for State's other dorms is between $50,000-70,000. (Kentucky's dorms came in at $250,000 per bed, and the Kansas' cost $305,000 per bed.)
However, the facility will be funded privately by the Wolfpack Club. No money will come from either state appropriations or student tuition and fees.
Still, some question whether the donations could be better used for other purposes. And some observers of higher education suggest that alumni donations for sports reduce giving for academics. If NC State's goal is legitimately to further academics, there are many better ways to use this money.
Even if concerns about the cost of the dormitory can be dismissed, there is perhaps a more important objection: N.C. State's athletic department is advocating special treatment for their student-athletes that mocks the school's most fundamental commitment to academics. It's difficult to see how academics are enhanced by favoring athletes with extravagant residence halls. As Kotis argued, while building a showy residence hall to attract basketball players does not overtly break NCAA rules, it flagrantly breaks the spirit of them.
Joe Warta is an intern for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.
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