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University presidents worry about athletic spending

BY CLARK CAHILL | NOVEMBER 13, 2009 7:20 AM

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At a time when colleges nationwide are eliminating athletics teams and spiking tuition for its students, university presidents are worried athletics spending cannot continue at its current rate.

A survey given to university presidents by the Knight Commission of Intercollegiate Athletics found many schools feel powerless to curb the commercialization of its athletics and the spending of its athletics departments.

“We see a situation in which athletics expenditures are rising three or four times faster than expenditures of the academic programs,” said William Kirwan, a cochairman of the commission and the chancellor of Maryland’s university system in a video conference. “That is obviously not something that can continue.”

The survey was looked at the money behind athletics in an attempt to equal the competition between schools with smaller budgets and those with larger ones, while also trying to find ways to equalize sports spending with that of academics at universities.

In its analysis, the survey — which was limited to schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision — found the top-tier universities in the 120-team group have annual sports budgets of more than $80 million, while the lowest are at $14 million.

Of the 95 out of 120 school presidents who took the survey, 85 percent believe football and basketball coaches receive excessive pay, and only 25 percent believe the current systems will be sustainable.

Iowa’s athletics budget is $65 million for fiscal 2010 and is self-sufficient. It does not receive general-fund support from the state or the university and is 100 percent responsible for its spending, said Michael Walker, the director of athletics business operations.

In fact, the athletics department will give the university $8.4 million for athletics scholarships for the next school year, said Rick Klatt, the Iowa associate athletics director for external affairs.

Iowa’s sports revenue is generated from general funds, ticket sales, sponsors, merchandise, and television contracts.

Only four of the 24 sports at Iowa — football, men’s and women’s basketball, and wrestling — generate money for the department. Those sports, along with its other revenue, are enough to sustain the rest of the sports and to pay for such projects as the Carver-Hawkeye Arena renovation.

But just because there are athletics departments that can sustain themselves without taking from their university’s general fund, it does not mean this trend will continue in the future.

“There are several schools who might be self-sufficient, but if they continue to rise at the current rate [three or four times that of academic programs], will that continue?” said Welch Suggs, consultant to the Knight Commission. “Presidents from both sides of the spectrum are concerned about cost increases in athletics because they are typically rising at a high rate.”

Kirwan said the commission will recommend guidelines for universities in the spring in order to help curb excessive spending.

Knight Commission members heard from Dutch Baughman, the executive director of Division-IA Athletics Director’s Association, who gave preliminary suggestions — smaller traveling squads, ending off-campus hotel stays before games, limiting staff hiring, and eliminating foreign travel.

In order to create equity throughout the Football Bowl Subdivision, a majority of college presidents need to be in on the changes together, but commission Co-Chairman R. Gerald Turner, the president of Southern Methodist University, was optimistic about the number of schools ready to change.

“There is a great deal of readiness on our campuses and within the higher-education athletics community for change to occur,” he said in a video conference. “It is simply a matter of how it can get organized and energized.”


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