Hawkeye sports officials fend off funding criticism

BY LUKE VOELZ | JULY 20, 2011 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa Athletics Department and those of peer institutions are defending their spending habits following a round of criticism from Michael Gartner.

The former state Board of Regents president turned his eye on athletics in a Sunday opinion piece in the Des Moines Register, claiming athletics officials at the UI and Iowa State University should put some of their revenue toward their university's general spending fund. The Hawkeye Athletics Department is self-sustaining, and the ISU department will soon be self-sustaining.

"The University of Iowa takes in $66 million in athletics revenue, but that doesn't mean the department should have the unsupervised right to spend that," Gartner wrote. "Why shouldn't it return $10 million to $15 million to the general fund?"

But athletics directors defended their revenue as bolstering university reputation and providing academic money through scholarships.

"All of the university Athletics Department pays for the tuition for all of its student athletes, and that amount this year will be 8 million-plus," said Rick Klatt, the UI associate athletics director for external affairs. "Some school athletics scholarships may only have to pay half or in-state rates."
At the UI, all funds made from the UI's logo — approximately $2.4 million in fiscal 2010 — is allocated to athletics.

University of Northern Iowa Athletics Director Troy Dannen shared Klatt's support of athletic funding.

"The [UNI] Athletics Department is paying several million to the institution already in tuition fees and other services," he said. "If you start reducing expenses to too great of a degree, you harm your ability to generate revenue, and you get into a position where you can't generate institutional support."

The Hawkeyes' 2010 athletics budget saw slightly more than 10 percent of roughly $65 million total funds allocated toward scholarships. Though such numbers sound extravagant, they're necessary to remain athletically competitive, said Regent Robert Downer.

"While I would like to see some support go to the university from athletics — which it does through scholarships for athletes — at same time it's important … that they be able to be competitive on level where they're playing," he said. "I wouldn't want to see support for UI athletics decline to a point where it cannot be competitive in a lot of sports in the Big Ten."

Staying competitive, he said, is key to attracting financial support, both through students and potential donors. He noted that UI patron Roy Carver — whose Roy J. Carver Charitable Fund helped finance the Carver College of Medicine, Hancher, and Carver-Hawekeye Arena — was initially attracted to the UI through his love of wrestling.

Extending the athletics programs' reach any further, said Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia, would put regent universities at risk of becoming too-profit driven.

"I would be concerned about making [athletics programs] into profit centers that universities would come to depend upon," he said. "I could envision a situation in which there would be a danger of going for profit rather than for what we normally think of college athletics being used for."

Gartner wasn't solely concerned about profits — the Iowa Cubs' owner extended his criticism to athletics coaches.

"How can [the UI] justify paying the women's basketball coach a sum more than three times the revenue of the sport?" he wrote. "Is it right that the four highest-paid state employees are coaches at Iowa and Iowa State?"

Hawkeye football coach Kirk Ferentz's salary was $3.675 million in 2010. Downer admitted while such salaries were higher than necessary, they remain a product of a national culture willing to spend big bucks on sports at large.

"The 'going rate' for coaches has gone sky-high," he said. "I don't think, frankly, if you hire whatever football coach you could get for 100,000 or 200,000, you're going to get a football coach who is going to be successful for very long. This could be a case that society's values are out of line for what they should be."

Forristall offered a more supportive take on a coach's role.

"I think that's what people who coach at that level should earn," he said. "It's a free market for that sort of talent."

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