NC State Hoops Players’ Palatial New Digs Send the Wrong Message

Athletes need a good night’s sleep to maximize their performance. But that doesn’t explain why NC 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 NC 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 playoffs.

The dormitory story began in 2015. NC State’s athletic 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. Those schools, whose basketball programs are among the most successful in the country, built multi-million-dollar dorms specifically for basketball players. 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.

Obviously, the two schools were attempting to sway athletes with perks to attend their schools in order to bolster their athletic programs. NC 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. Thirty will be reserved exclusively for student-athletes, while the other 35 will be filled with non-athlete students. There is a certain craftiness to this arrangement. The NCAA National Collegiate Athletic Association has strict rules regarding special treatment for student-athletes, one of which is that residential buildings must contain at least 51% non-athlete students.

In order to move forward with the Case Commons project, NC State had to gain approval from the UNC System’s Board of Governors. There was some opposition; three dissenting members of the Board of Governors voted against the project. During the meeting at which the project was approved, one of the dissenters, Marty Kotis, said that the construction was simply too expensive to justify. Kotis, a real estate developer, stated that “I think most families out there would view four students being housed for a million dollars as an extravagant amount.”

Despite those board members’ resistance, NC State received approval to move forward with the plan from both the Board of Governors and the state legislature.

But construction did not proceed as planned. It was halted until after a new basketball coach was hired. Fred Demarest, NC State’s associate athletic director, said the school’s leadership wanted to wait for the new coach’s input on the project. Instead of breaking ground in spring of 2017, construction is now planned to start sometime in 2018, with an estimated completion time of the following summer.

Reasons why NC State supposedly needs such lavish housing include Yow’s explanation that having all the basketball players in one location 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 NC State’s Wolfpack Club, Bobby Purcell, argued that Case Commons dormitory will promote the academic endeavors of student-athletes. To further this aim, 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.

NC State’s deputy athletics director, Chris Boyer, affirmed that school officials are intent on promoting academic success for student-athletes by positioning the housing next to the student-athlete tutoring office and moving the players onto campus in order to avoid them living off campus.

Some observers of higher education suggest that alumni donations for sports reduce giving for academics.(Boyer did not, however, deny that the new housing complex would be helpful in recruiting student-athletes.)

Perhaps the most obvious argument against Case Commons Residence Hall is its hefty 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—roughly one-fourth as much. (The University of Kentucky’s new athletic dorms came in at $250,000 per bed, and the University of Kansas’s cost an even pricier $305,000 per bed.)

However, the cost objection can be easily rebutted. It will be funded privately by the Wolfpack Club. The Wolfpack Club is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to funding athletic scholarships and facilities; the money to pay for the dormitory will not come from either state appropriations or student tuition and fees.

Still, there are questions whether the $15 million in donations could be better used for other purposes. This sentiment was expressed by the school’s then-chief financial officer, Charles Leffler. He wondered whether this would leave possible future athletic projects underfunded.

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 the academics of its students, 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: NC State’s athletic department is advocating special treatment for their student-athletes that mocks the school’s most fundamental commitment to academics. It is difficult to see how academics are enhanced by favoring student-athletes with extravagant residence halls. The motives of the university in building this dorm appear to be at odds with promoting academic pursuits over athletic activities. As the Board of Governor’s Marty 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.

  • 48574

    Back in the ’80s when I went to school I got to be a student representative on a committee that help put the proposed school budget together. One of the most interesting parts of that whole time was the Liberal Arts professors on the committee complaining bitterly that the engineering school and business school got to offered much higher salaries at all level of experience then they earned. They thought they taught at least as valuable if not more valuable subjects. A number of them favored getting rid of all undergrad majors that lead to a job. Everyone ought to be required to get a Liberal Arts degree then if they wanted to become an accountant like me then can get a masters. The explanation for all of this was engineering and business professors could in fact earn much higher salaries outside the university then the Liberal Arts professors so the university had to match that pay.

    This article strikes me as being like the Liberal Arts professors complaining. They didn’t like the disrespect implied in the market value of the other professors.

    In this whole article they really can’t point to a really good harm done by this dorm except some vague philosophical objection.

    It doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything. Since 51% of the people living in it can’t be athletes you are getting a bunch of nice dorms for non-athletes on the cheap- paid for by the athletic department in effect. Use that to recruit other “more valuable” students from the academic point of view if you want.

    Sorry, I am not a big sports guy and not a fan of any NC university but I am just not seeing the big harm here other then academic egos being bruised by the fact athletes have a higher market value then a bunch of PhDs.

    • jaypopecenter

      There are very substantial differences between liberal arts professors complaining about their engineering and business peers and athletes getting special treatment. For one, technology and business departments are necessary parts of a university; big-time athletics are not. Emphasizing engineering and business do not devalue the academic mission, but merely recenter it. Emphasizing athletics does devalue academics.

      An emphasis on big-time athletics in the revenue-producing sports is often accompanied by corruption. If a school is chasing athletes with luxury housing, they’re probably chasing them with shady methods. Except at a very few schools. It is no longer possible to compete for championships in Div. I football and basketball without dropping admissions standards (and ethical standards) below the level required to succeed academically. That means all kinds of shady tactics are needed to keep the athletes eligible. UNC got caught because of an unfortunate email by a player, but they are far from the only school playing games off the field as well as on.

      Also, the cost is not really free. Giving to athletics often reduces giving for academics.

      Everything in academia is not about market value., nor should it be. A public university is not a private for-profit firm. Most of the NCAA revenue-producing sports world is a swamp that should be drained. The fact that it is not is a reflection on the corruption of the NCAA and its member schools; the TV money is too good. As the UNC scandal showed, just because there are rules in place does not mean they can’t be ignored with impunity if everybody involved wants them ignored.

      • lford

        “Also, the cost is not really free. Giving to athletics often reduces giving for academics.” Your argument is fatally flawed in that you ASSUME that a dollar given to athletics would be given to academics if the athletic giving opportunity did not exist. Most university development officers (and I have worked very closely with several over my career) will tell you that a successful football or basketball program will increase the amount of giving to the school especially from alumni and others who previously did not give at all. While some of that giving goes to the athletics side, a lot of it goes to the academics side as well.

        Further, you seem to imply that donors should be prevented from giving to athletics and allowed to give only to academics – how totalitarian of you (but completely in line with the administration at most colleges and universities these days). People should be able to give freely to whomsoever and whatever cause they desire, or at least one would hope so in a free society (again, another notion at odds with today’s academia).

        Finally, giving to athletics programs frees the school to use its budget elsewhere, as well as lessen the burden on students whose tuition bills often include a heavy dose of “athletic fees” to support sports programs.

  • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

    Yes: “NC State’s athletic department is advocating special treatment for their student-athletes that mocks the school’s [more] fundamental commitment to academics.”

    But sociology warns us of other dangers related to segregation — moral solidarity, for example. Groups that are separated from peers tend to pick up and propagate norms that are independent. They have their own reputations to create. We already see this across athletic programs, nationally, where carousing and violence escalate beyond the norm because they take on a competitive aspect. A path along the continuum from trash-talk to competitive violence (including dreaded Title IX assaults) is made more likely by purposely creating an athletic-culture zone — where boasting leads to off-site aggressive encounters, like attacks and beatings, in bars, nightclubs and parties. Gang violence is like this.

    “Members of the dominant group feel a thrill of ritual solidarity in sacrificing a victim who has somehow challenged the group’s symbolic boundaries, thus dramatizing that they are within [those boundaries]. … In fighting – as in sports like soccer, hockey, and basketball – defense and offense must be played simultaneously in continuous stretches of emotionally intense action.”

    It seems sheer lunacy to spend taxpayer money to purposely create an attention space that focuses on building athletic identity and fostering competitive instinct, to the detriment of academics. Why invite gang violence, and the headlines that will come with it?

  • Jacob Shepherd

    All athletes at NC State were housed for decades in a converted 1960s motel across a major thoroughfare from the extreme and remote south border of the campus, so it is definitely time for some upgrades. The mixing of athletes and non-athlete students in this dormitory is an interesting idea and worth a try.

    • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

      What was the social culture like? High status or low status? Did athletic directors act as chaperones?

  • bdavi52

    So funny.
    “the motives of the university in building this dorm appear to be at odds with promoting academic pursuits over athletic activities.”

    Ya think?

    Of course they’re “at odds” with the so-called purpose of the University. They’ve been at odds with that purpose for such a long time and to such a severe extent that rather we should say that the ‘avowed’ purpose of the University is distinctly at odds with what, in fact, the University actually does. In terms of revenue generation, the ‘purpose’ of the University is the creation and fielding of Tier 1, D-1, sports teams to compete in mult-million-dollar markets.

    $230K/bed has nothing NOTHING to do with academics and everything to do with ‘paying’ glamour athletes to live in Raleigh for a year, maybe two and wear the ‘red & white’. That’s it. Go to school; attend class; get a degree; act like a student — pshaww, them’s little potatoes. What matters is the Big Dance. And in order to get to the Big Dance, you have to entice world-class BBall players to join the Wolfpack for enough months to make them eligible. That’s it.

    In fact, the “palatial new digs” sends exactly the right message — the intended message — clear for everyone to see: NC State is super serious about BBall!! (Academics — hmmmm, not so much (and, as demonstrated at UNC — not at all fi they interfere with the primary purpose of the so-called University)).

  • TxMedRgr

    N.C. wants “limited access from outside parties.” I thought that is why diversity is so important, so that students interact with people outside their own group. I guess not so much for basketball players.