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Faculty critical of athletic budget

MU sports
May. 25, 2013 @ 11:05 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Some faculty members are calling for major changes within Marshall University's athletic department, starting with a budget they say is too heavily supported by university dollars.

Last fiscal year, the athletic budget was $24.8 million (about 13 percent of the overall university budget), and about 46 percent of that was paid for with student fees and direct university support, according a Conference USA budget survey. Marshall is a member of that conference.

While only about 10 percent of NCAA Division I athletic departments were self-sufficient in 2012, faculty members say $11.6 million in student and university support is too much for a university facing a $5.11 million cut in state appropriations and whose faculty salaries are in some cases 30 percent below peer averages.

"The Marshall University mission statement speaks to education," said Dallas Brozik, a professor in the College of Business. "There is not one word about sports. Diversion of scarce state resources for 'athlete-tainment' is contrary to our primary task. A self-supporting athletic program is fine, but it cannot be put ahead of education or take resources away from educational efforts."

The comments coming from some senior members of the faculty follow a tumultuous April, which started with the administration sweeping millions of dollars from departmental accounts without notification.

That event was a precursor to a board of governors meeting where a new centralized budget system proposed by President Stephen Kopp was put on hold to allow his administration time to rebuild trust with faculty, who weeks later issued a vote of no confidence in Kopp. The money swept from the departmental accounts was returned.

The actions in April also prompted Kopp to form a budget work group that included representatives from various campus stakeholders, including faculty, to help form a balanced budget that can be presented to the board on June 11.

It's been the work of the group that has led to some faculty members raising questions about the athletic budget and its dollars.

Psychology professor Pamela Mulder described athletics as frivolous, helping "very few people and not remotely connected to the physical well-being of our overall student body."

"If competitive athletics is so very valuable to the university, then it should not only be self-supporting, it should be bringing in donations and talent to help support the less 'sexy' (but far more critical) mission of educating West Virginians," Mulder said in an email to the The Herald-Dispatch.

Biology professor James Joy was even harsher, saying that Marshall touts its athletic programs as propping up the university, while he believes it's actually draining the institution.

"We've been told since the mid 1980s that athletics would have to become self-sustaining," Joy said. "So, I don't care what the overall dollar budget figure is, just so long as our students, faculty and staff don't have to pay for a huge chunk of the ticket price purchased by someone seeking athletic entertainment that doesn't give a hoot about anything else the university represents."

An issue of priorities

Marty Amerikaner, a psychology professor who also is the faculty representative on the board of governors, does not think Marshall athletics should be canned. His argument is that there are serious financial deficiencies on the academic side that should take priority.

That includes losing out on top faculty recruits because the salaries are too low, noting that other institutions may provide as much or more support of athletics but also pay faculty at peer averages. And, he said he's heard from colleagues who work in Drinko Library that some scholarly subscriptions may not be renewed because of the cost.

"This has been an issue for a long time because Marshall has been an under-resourced institution for a long time," said Amerikaner, who ran track in college and whose daughter played collegiate tennis.

He also questions why the athletic budget has increased by almost $13 million, or nearly 75 percent, since 2005.

"It's about practical dollars and cents. It's not whether you like sports or if a team is winning or losing."

And there has been more losing since Marshall joined C-USA, a league he and others say is dominated by schools much larger than Marshall.

"We are literally playing out of our league, and I think that the performance of recent years confirms that judgment," he said, speaking mostly of football and basketball.

In terms of spending, Marshall's athletic department is near the bottom in C-USA, according to the conference budget survey that does not identify schools. Marshall had the fifth lowest athletic budget out of 18 teams, confirmed David Steele, Marshall's associate athletics director.

Marshall ranked 14th in terms of support through student fees and additional university support at a combined $11.417 million. The top school in terms of institutional support received 78 percent of its $28.67 million budget from student fees and the university.

Many of the Mid-American Conference schools also have higher percentages of the athletic budgets supported by student fees and university dollars, including Ohio (72 percent) and Toledo (52.5 percent).

Last fiscal year, according to financial numbers reported to the NCAA, the student auxiliary fee ($339 per semester) generated $4.24 million for athletics, with another $7.44 million coming as direct university support. A recent USA Today report showed a higher number under "school funds," but Steele said much of the $2.8 million discrepancy is related to categories where no money changes hands, such as facility depreciation.

Western Kentucky, which has a similar overall budget figure and is joining C-USA in 2014, took in more than $6 million in student fees and nearly $10 million in additional support from the university.

At East Carolina, which is leaving C-USA next year, the institutional support was only $350,000, but student fees generated nearly $12 million for athletics.

In addition, Marshall was below the average in the amount spent on salaries, scholarships, sports and administration.

Marshall's athletic budget has increased about 36 percent since 2006, and various sources have supported that increased spending.

The USA Today report shows that rights licensing revenues increased from $3.1 million in 2006 to $4.97 million in 2012. Contributions also increased during the same seven-year period, from $3.8 million to $4 million. And ticket sales revenue grew about $1 million to $3.6 million.

But from 2006 to 2012, the biggest growth in money to shore up the budget was in direct university support, going from about $3 million in 2006 to $7.44 million last year.

That's what has a number of senior faculty members concerned, pointing out other institutional needs they feel should be a priority.

'We have to work together'

Steele, who is a member of the university's recently formed budget work group, said he and the entire athletic department understand the weight of the financial hardship facing Marshall.

"We're part of the institution, and we have to work together to make it work," Steele said, noting that Marshall is at the NCAA minimum of 16 sports after eliminating the men's indoor and outdoor track teams in 2003.

Dan Holbrook, the chairman of the History Department and also a member of the budget work group, complimented Steele's efforts when answering questions at a May 15 faculty meeting. He told the group of about 50 that athletics has conceded just under $400,000 in the budget. But he also described the athletic budget as "constructed in a way that it seems impenetrable."

Steele expressed an appreciation for being on the group because it has allowed him to learn more about the concerns on the academic side. It also is giving him a chance to educate those who don't completely understand the inner workings of the athletic budget.

For instance, last year, the athletic department received about $1.3 million in television revenue from nationally televised football games. The competition might be less challenging in a lower-rated conference, but Steele and Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said the TV revenue would be nearly non-existent.

They pointed to Marshall's last year in the Mid-American Conference, when Marshall made $38,000 in TV revenue and actually took a loss to play in the 2004 bowl game. When Marshall played in a bowl game following the 2011 season, the profit after traveling expenses was about $50,000.

"We do a pretty good job of generating revenue to support our department," Steele said.

It's also important, they said, to note that most sports generate little to no revenue and no sport is self-sustaining. Some sports aren't even listed on the revenue side, such as golf and women's track, while those sports cost $256,733 and $779,992, respectively, this fiscal year. Women's basketball had a budget of nearly $1.4 million, yet ticket sales were minuscule compared to what the men's basketball team brings in.

Football, which cost the most at $6.6 million, generated $2.1 million in ticket sales and an additional $892,000 in chair backs and suite leases. There also is revenue tied to advertising and scoreboard rights that are spread throughout the budget.

However the budget shakes out, Brozik and Amerikaner said the issue is about setting long-term priorities that place academic needs above athletics, which they feel has not been the case for a long time.

"My hope is we step back and say, 'What are the priorities?'" Amerikaner said. "We're in a very, very tough (financial) environment and we're being told it's getting worse before it's getting better."

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