Iowa Athletics Department should share surplus revenue with the larger University


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College football is not just a game in this country; it's an enterprise.

Whether you tune into a broadcast of a game or attend one in person, that much is clear; there's no end to the cameras and talk of BCS bowl games or "burrito lifts" and little Nike Swooshes. Money is everywhere — and everyone, it seems, is advertising.

The University of Iowa's football team represents what college football has become in this day and age. Indeed, Iowa's football program is so profitable it allows the university's Athletics Department relative financial autonomy; it pays for coaches, facilities, and sports equipment, all without relying on general education funding. This is no small feat — Iowa's athletics program is one of only a few NCAA universities that manage to be self-sufficient.

While the self-sufficiency of the Iowa Athletics Department is laudable, sports are just one small component of the University of Iowa. The department is not a separate entity from the university, and, given recent budget woes, it should be subject to the same financial cutbacks happening elsewhere on campus.

This is just one of many changes former state Board of Regents President Michael Gartner advocated in a guest opinion printed in the Des Moines Register on Sunday. While some of Gartner's proposals are misguided, sharing funds between the Athletics Department and the UI is a good idea; it would go a long way toward alleviating the university's budget woes and prevent the Athletics Department from being an essentially independent corporation using the UI's name, trademarks, and academic allure.

The university's Athletics Department predicts revenues in excess of $70 million for fiscal 2011. With the UI facing an $8 million decrease in state appropriations, there's a cogent argument for at least pulling enough from the athletics budget to make up the difference.

But there is no incentive or requirement mandating that surpluses be returned to the university's general fund, meaning that the excess funds won't help programs struggling to stay afloat — and the athletics budget surplus serves as, well, play money.

"How can [the Athletics Department] justify paying the women's basketball coach a sum more than three times the revenue of the sport?" Gartner asks in his opinion. "Why shouldn't it return $10 million to $15 million to the general fund?"

It's a good question. The way things stand now, the Athletics Department has no reason to be frugal; surpluses mean better-paid coaches and shinier facilities, even as diminishing budgets force tuition increases and program cuts at the rest of the UI.

No one wants to drain the successful sports programs we've managed to build over the years, and it's important too much funding isn't transferred from the Athletics Department. Sports programs often serve as ambassadors to the rest of the world, allowing the university to attract perspective students and maintain affluent donors, which the state Board of Regents full-well understand.

"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," Regent Robert Downer told The Daily Iowan this week. Downer noted that one of the athletics programs' most high-profile supporters, Roy Carver, became interested in the university as a result of wrestling success.

But that same argument shouldn't prevent athletics from contributing more to the rest of the university. Even small changes can have the potential of staving off further tuition hikes or, at the very least, providing some form of financial-aid for future students.

Consider trademark and licensing on the University's iconic Tigerhawk. Last year alone, trademark licensing earned nearly $2.4 million, with the earnings trend steadily increasing over the past few years. All licensing revenues currently go to athletics, though other Big Ten schools, such as Ohio State, share their licensing earnings with the rest of the university.

"I think the philosophy here has always been that we're all in this together," Rick Van Brimmer, Ohio State's director of trademark and licensing, told *The Daily Iowan* in April. "While there is a fair amount of recognition that athletics is visible … the money that is generated in the university's name should go back to benefit as many students as possible on a day-to-day basis."

Some may view the idea of demanding more from a successful athletics program to be counterintuitive. Critics will call it "punishment" or claim there is no way to share revenue without hurting current athletics operations. But all at an institution should understand it's their responsibility and job to operate in real-world economic realities. For the University of Iowa, that means being as cost-effective as possible on a campuswide level.

Mere months from now, Kinnick Stadium will be rumbling with more than 70,000 rabid football fans, many of them university students. Few will probably take the time to consider the sheer magnitude of wealth concentrated around them, although, hopefully, some will realize the potential.

With costs of higher education rising exponentially, there may be few better places to start looking for support.

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