I thought times were tough for colleges and universities these days but I guess, as Humphrey Bogart said in “Casablanca,” I was misinformed.

For several weeks I’ve been reading about colleges and universities in Missouri scrambling to deal with anticipated cuts to their budgets. So, when I read that the University of Missouri will have to pay the Big 12  a $12.4 million fee to leave for the SEC, I assumed the folks at MU would howl in protest.

It turns out I was wrong, unless you consider a comment by Tim Hickman, Missouri’s associate director for operations, a howl of protest.

“I think it’s fair, it’s reasonable and consistent with what other teams that left our league have paid,” Hickman told the Kansas City Star. “We’re happy that it’s all finalized and ready to move on.”

Hickman’s department is going to lose $12.4 million and he’s happy? I’m not sure I understand.

Actually I do understand and, by the way, I don’t mean to pick on MU here. The MU athletic department has made it clear that it will absorb the $12.4 million loss and that it won’t impact the university’s overall budget. In other words, the athletic department isn’t going to be tapping into money earmarked for, say, the history department.

But still.

At a time when colleges and universities are raising tuition, hiking fees and contemplating laying off faculty and staff it just seems odd to me that someone could just shrug off the loss of $12.4 million. But, the MU athletic department (as well as most major college athletic departments) can do just that. And why can they do that? Simple. Major college athletics is big, big business. And why is that? Because of people like me.

On Monday night I plopped down in front of the TV and watched the University of Kansas play basketball. On Tuesday night, I watched Kansas State University play basketball and on Wednesday night I watched MU play basketball. By the way, although I am first and foremost a KU fan, I also like MU. And after Frank Haith brought his MU team to Joplin to play Missouri Southern after the May 22 tornado, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for MU.

But, because I like to watch college sports, companies such as ESPN can justify sending huge piles of money to schools such as MU, KU and K-State.

While I’m not prepared to shell out the thousands of dollars it takes to buy season tickets, there are a lot of people who will do it. I’m also not prepared to make large donations to MU or KU’s athletic departments but, again, there are a lot of people who are.

That’s why Hickman can give the loss of $12.4 million the old ho-hum.

But I wonder what would happen if we could share some of the enthusiasm we show for college sports with  academics. I wonder what would happen if, instead of state governors making those dumb bets with each other on sporting events — “If KU wins the Missouri governor will send the Kansas Governor 15 pounds of Gates barbecue ribs and if MU wins the Kansas governor will send the Missouri governor a bushel of wheat.” — the governors would bet on which state could raise the most money for academics?

We think nothing of shelling out big bucks each year for tickets to major college sporting events yet we balk at any talk of  tax increases to fund education.

The NCAA basketball tournament starts in a couple of weeks. This year MU and KU have excellent teams and it’s possible one of them just might win the national championship, which would be pretty neat.

I just wonder what a national championship would  mean to the members of the KU or MU faculty and staff who may get laid off?

This Week's Circulars