New Player Development Center: An inequality closer to home

November 21, 2011

Political Theory


This past Thursday in our Political Science lecture, we discussed two fascinating topics: fairness and justice.

We talked about John Rawls and utilitarianism, “Lexical Priority” and the two principles of justice, and the “difference principle.”

This lecture inspired a conversation in my discussion section about “Occupy Wall Street.” With rallies, pickets and tents, the protesters on Wall Street have captured the attention of the nation throughout the past three months or so. It has also captured the conversation of my discussion class on this particular day.

(For those who have been living in a hole, have not watched or read the news or talked to anyone about current events and issues, here is a quick synopsis: “Occupy Wall Street” is a demonstration that has been going on since the middle of September. The protests oppose social and economic inequality. The rallies have also shed light on the fact that the gap in wealth between the top one percent and the rest of the population is rapidly growing.)

Students in my class argued back and forth. “Occupy Wall Street” expresses the belief that this minute percentage of the population shouldn’t receive huge salaries because it doesn’t need it. The wealth of this nation should be divided among the population with a sense of equality.

Though I have no opinion on “Occupy Wall Street” (That’s a lie. I do have thoughts about the protests, but I don’t think this is the correct forum to share them), it ignited a fuse in me. I am slightly disturbed by affairs that are closer to home — right here on the University of Michigan campus.

An outside view of the new Player Development Center, which connects to Crisler Arena

This past month, the Player development center for both the men and women’s basketball teams was unveiled. It is a sight to behold.

Talking to a friend of mine who is on Michigan’s women’s volleyball team, I found myself describing the facility.

It is a sight to behold

It’s big. It’s ravishing. It’s extremely luxurious inside. There are practice courts for the basketball teams, spacious locker rooms with iPad’s and flat screen televisions, an expansive weight room, a splendid training room with hydrotherapy pools, awesome lounges with big cushiony chairs and a “movie theatre” to watch film.

I paused. My friend was looking at me in a dreamy state, as if she was imagining what it would be like to have similar facilities for her team. For just a second, I thought about what I had just described to her.

It’s kind of unfair, right? 

For the 16 men’s basketball players and the 14 women’s basketball players, this facility is a dream come true (here’s a full video tour of the facility). But what about the other 25 university athletic teams?

The new men's basketball locker room — located in the PDC —comes equipped with spacious lockers, cushiony chairs, and an iPad's for each individual player

Even though this practice facility will help land highly touted basketball recruits, it’s completely unnecessary and unfair. It cost 23.2 million dollars to build this magnificent facility. But that money could have been equally dispersed among all the university’s athletic teams to help build and or improve facilities for every single team on campus. Instead, the riches go to just 30 athletes — maybe not quite one percent of all student-athletes on campus, but surely an extremely low percentage.

The disparity between the new practice facility for the basketball teams and the facilities of other athletic teams is absurd. The athletic department should be ashamed of themselves for the embarrassment of riches they handed to just these two teams. Although i don’t think that we should “Occupy the New Player Development Center,” this issue does need to have light shed upon it.

So is it fair that the men and women’s basketball have such luxurious facilities while other less heralded athletic teams do not?

John Rawls’ “Difference Principle” suggests that this is an astounding inequality right before our eyes. The principle suggests that each member of society (in this case, the student-athlete body) has an equal claim on their society’s goods (luxurious facilities). The principle also states that inequalities are permitted if and only if they are to the greatest benefit of the least-advantaged members in society.

All athletes do not benefit from this new facility. Not the tennis teams, not the volleyball team, not the swimming and diving teams, not the rowing team and not the lacrosse team — just to name a few. This facility largely benefits the basketball teams.

The volleyball team's locker room in Cliff Keen Arena. Although its nice, its not nearly as luxurious as the men's basketball team's locker roomthe swimming and diving teams, not the rowing team and not the lacrosse team — just to name a few. This facility largely benefits just the basketball teams.swimming and diving tea

If we accept the Difference Principle — which I do — then this new Player Development Center is a great inequality to the student-athlete population. Instead of building such lavish lounges, the Athletic Department could have placed iPad’s in every single team’s locker room — and not just in the basketball teams’ locker rooms. The could have spent a couple million dollars less on the basketball facility in order to put new couches in Cliff Keen Arena or in the Tennis Center or even in the Canham Natatorium. This facility is an injustice the hundreds of other athletes who work their butts off for Michigan.

“The Difference Principle.” Political Philosophy. Web. 21 Nov. 2011.

<http://www.politicalphilosophy.info/differenceprinciple.html&gt;.

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2 Comments on “New Player Development Center: An inequality closer to home”

  1. benjishanus Says:

    I think you raise a very fair point. It is really fair that the two teams receive very exclusive, privileged treatment over other teams, yet, they did anyway. It is definitely valid that the funds could have been allotted much more evenly to several different varsity programs rather than just two. There is no denying that.

    However, while it may not be fair, I think it is important to acknowledge what the university is trying to accomplish, which is of course to bolster the basketball program, particularly the men’s team. The reason for this is to create additional revenue and prestige for the University of Michigan. Justified or not, these additional amenities will very likely lead to better recruiting, as you mentioned. Better plays will then very likely lead more wins, more networks deals, and more excitement for the university, which is all at stake. I agree that allotting all of this money to the basketball program alone seems quite outrageous, but it is definitely indicative of the country we live in.

  2. Phil O'Donnell Says:

    Despite this being a very interesting and relevant post, I will argue that the author of the post is idealistic in his opinions regarding how the financial management of Michigan’s athletic programs.

    Firstly, it should be acknowledged that the Michigan athletic department operates and functions similar to any professional sporting model (or private firm) and hence the main goal is to remain sustainable and if possible create revenue for the athletic program and the University, much of which is subsequently reinvested into athletics and academics. Due to this, similar to any other business or company, the athletic department follows consumer choice in the devising of its business plan. Put simply, the athletic department needs money from the public (the consumers) to create revenue, whether this is in ticket sales, merchandise sales or any other consumer choice, hence it will invest more heavily in good (in this case sports) which the consumers choose more. In contemporary America, whether rightly or wrongly, basketball (especially college basketball) is one of the nation’s most popular and profitable sports. Hence, many consumers choose to watch and spend money on college basketball, making it more profitable. Thus, creating a successful and high quality basketball program at the University will help increase revenues and profits; a winning program usually attracts more fans and profits then a less successful program. I hardly feel I need to go into the benefits that better facilities will have on recruiting and how this will increase the quality of the team and the amount of revenue created, as this is striking obvious. Thus, viewed through the perspective of a shrewd businessman, this can be seen as a justified investment (although the extent may be questioned).

    Further to this, wouldn’t it be unfair to spend the profits which the basketball team (along with other bigger programs, such as football and hockey) created on smaller programs first. Why shouldn’t the basketball program be given the best facility possible? If the University can afford it, the money was probably provided for by the bigger programs, hence why shouldn’t they benefit from the revenue they help create in terms of investment, such as this new facility. Coupled with this, regardless of the extent of the investment (iPads for every player seems a little excessive); a facility of this nature was definitely needed for the overall development of the program, as Michigan’s basketball facilities had been lacking before this year’s new PDC and the renovations to Cristler Arena. Adding to the aforementioned arguments is the idea of meritocracy, why shouldn’t those sports which are deemed most popular or the ‘best’ by society be rewarded the most, surely this would be the case in any other meritocratic section of society, so why would it be any different here?

    Another argument against the equal distribution of revenue and profits is that unequal distribution of funding can create flagship, impressive facilities which make the University famous and more reputable; for example one of the most iconic attractions of Ann Arbor is Michigan Stadium. Hence, many would argue that instead of trying to develop all the athletic programs at an equal rate, why not focus on the most popular and prosperous sports (football, basketball and hockey) first and thus reap the most profits. This argument is strengthened by the fact that few of the smaller sports at Michigan (or any other school) are actually profitable and hence (despite the overall/aggregate athletic department making a profit) these sports can run at a loss; why pump money into something which runs at a loss and consumers do not frequently choose?

    Finally, taking from the lessons of Rawls, wouldn’t improving the basketball team actually help the smaller sports (the ‘least in society’ of this model) programs at Michigan more in the long run? For example, giving the female volleyball department an equal amount of the overall funding next year which is provided to the athletic department would arguably allow them to improve facilities to a certain extent but they would probably not have the level of investment which would allow them to create a flagship program or flagship facilities, which would provide them the ability to run at a profit; sadly we all know that unfortunately female volleyball matches are not going to be filling Michigan Stadium with spectators. Whereas if a disproportionate amount of money was given to the Michigan Basketball team, there is a greater chance that this investment would be turned into profit and hence in the future, a greater amount of money would be given to the smaller programs (such as female volleyball) if the revenues were distributed equally as they would be a greater overall revenue to distribute. Admittedly a lot of this argument relies on speculation and projections of investment return and the future distribution of revenues, however I still hold that investing money in the basketball team is a better financial investment (pertaining to projected returns) then investing in the smaller programs and as was first mentioned the Michigan athletic department is required to function like a normal firm, which creates revenue and returns a profit (or at least ‘breaks even’).

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