An editorial by Nikkan Gendai.
Nothing rings in the New Year like the Hakone Ekiden. With TV viewership ratings around 30% it's one of the most popular sports programs in Japan. The king of that cash cow is Aoyama Gakuin University, winning four-straight Hakone titles since its first victory in 2015. But no matter how well its students perform, every school in Hakone gets the same share of the proceeds, a uniform 2,000,000 yen [~$18,000 USD at current exchange rates].
The AGU team currently includes 44 athletes on its roster. Although athletes can get preferential admission, their tuition is the same as for other students and there are no exemptions or reductions. First year tuition in the Department of Social and Information Studies is around 1,520,000 yen [~$14,000 USD], and with additional fees including dormitory and training camp expenses the burden upon students' parents is considerable.
By comparison, in the United States the NCAA has made its collegiate sports a success from a business perspective. The NCAA earns around 100 billion yen [~$900 million USD] annually, with 87% of that coming from the March Madness NCAA men's basketball championships. Utilizing this income as a source of funds, the NCAA contributes 20% toward scholarships, 20% to teams according to their performance results, 10% toward travel costs, and additional amounts toward academic support, ticket costs, insurance and nutritional support.
Although there is criticism of the extent of commercialization within the NCAA, it also emphasizes a balance between sports and academics, with regulations dictating that students short of the necessary academic standing cannot participate in competitions. In Japan the National University Judo Federation has established similar regulations that students not meeting academic standards cannot compete, but it can be viewed as the exception rather than the norm.
There is now a push to create a "Japanese NCAA." In light of the current Nihon University American football scandal, it's easy to see that there is merit in this for the athletes as well. Professor Itaru Kobayashi, professor of sports business administration at Edogawa University and chairperson of the Sports Agency's Study Conference on the Promotion of University Sports, described the Japanese NCAA concept this way:
"In the Nihon University football case, there is a fair amount of discussion about Nihon University's initial reaction to the events, but the reality is that the majority of university sports clubs and teams are voluntary, independent groups supported by alumni and not under the direct supervision of the universities themselves. By creating an overall operational mechanism for university sports a Japanese NCAA would effectively serve to clarify the locus of responsibility in instances of inadequate safety measures for students, accidents, and scandals. It would offer students, who are in a weak bargaining position, the kind of academic and career support and worker's compensation that are already a given in the workplace."
In the case of the four-straight titles that Aoyama Gakuin's ekiden runners achieved, there appears to be no direct economic benefit for them. In a Japanese version of the NCAA were instituted, there is the possibility that a scholarship system for student athletes would be developed. But at the present time, what are the benefits to a university of winning a major ekiden?
They say that if you win the Hakone Ekiden the number of applicants to your university will rise sharply in the subsequent year. When AGU won Hakone for the first time in 2015, a total of 59,738 people applied to sit for entrance examinations, a 7% increase over the previous year. Over the course of its four-year sweep the total increase in AGU applicants has been 12.5%. However, despite hitting the lowest points in their ekiden histories, both Chuo University and Nihon University saw greater increases in applicant numbers than AGU, Chuo's numbers increasing 21.5% and Nihon's 17.2%.
Meanwhile AGU's deviation value increased from 57.5 to 62.5, but the promotional value of its ekiden victories has been limited. Toyo University, which won Hakone in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014, has said, "Ekiden success has been irrelevant to our applicants." It even experienced a decrease in applicant numbers in a winning year. The largest number of applicants to take an entrance exam in 2018 was Kinki University's 149,612. Rather than relying on sports success, Kinki's numbers can be considered the result of its embracing of online applications and of cultivating a unique image in its advertising.
Aoyama Gakuin's total budget for the 2018 fiscal year in 50.4 billion yen [~$460 million USD], an increase of 450 million yen [~$4 million USD] that is due to an increase in tuition at the university and its affiliated junior high schools and high schools. In spite of this, salary and other personnel expenses for the 1350 staff members throughout the AGU organization totaled only 19.4 billion yen [~$177 million USD], a decrease of 240 million yen [~$2.2 million USD] from the previous year.
translated by Brett Larner