Position Paper on UI Athletics

BACK TO THE BIG SKY

Nick Gier, President Idaho Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO

Dale Graden, President University of Idaho Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO

Note: References are given at the end

After two years of financial exigency (FY 81 &82), a petition was circulated among UI faculty about the use of appropriated funds for intercollegiate athletics. Over 120 signatures were gathered on a resolution to eliminate that funding. The main point of the resolution was that intercollegiate sports were not central to UI’s academic mission. The resolution was passed by Faculty Council and sent to the UI administration.  For four years (1983-87) the Vandals, presumably without a subsidy, won five Big Sky championships.

In 1987 the State Board of Education authorized $665,500 for intercollegiate athletics, which grew to $1.98 million for FY04, according to UI budget books.  While all UI programs were required to make substantial cuts, $322,600 was added to the athletics budget for FY05, an amount almost identical to what the liberal arts and social sciences had to give up. Furthermore, another $500,000 was added from the UI Foundation. The associate athletic director characterized this $500,000 gift as a reward for all the revenue and scholarship money that it raises every year. However, we know of no other UI department, even ones that raise millions of dollars for research, that are rewarded by the UI Foundation in this way.

The athletics department also pays a one percent administrative fee to the central administration while all other units must pay six percent.  We have recently learned that former President Robert Hoover allowed this reduction when the Vandals moved to I-A competition.  In a recent appearance before UI Faculty Council, UI athletic director Robert Spear was confronted on this issue and he responded that UI’s move to the Western Athletic Conference would be jeopardized if he had to pay the six percent fee.  The problem with this excuse is that every UI program could make the exact same argument, but only athletics is allowed the exception.

What would $2.4 million mean for our academic programs?  It amounts to 48 new assistant professor positions with benefits, or eight philosophy departments.  It would fund a small college very nicely. The economic impact on the community were be far greater (perhaps by a factor of ten) than five home games.  The annual economic contributions to the Palouse of WSU and UI combined has been estimated at $500,000,000.

When athletic departments across the nation report that their programs are profitable, they usually include appropriated funds in their figures. If that money is removed from the budgets, the national average for I-A schools, according to an NCAA study, is a $237,000 deficit, up from a $174,000 deficit in 1993.

Between 1998 and 2000 the University of Michigan lost $7 million in its athletics program, and in 1998 the University of Wisconsin lost $286,700 even though it went to the Rose Bowl. In 1999-2000 Ohio State made $73 million on athletics  but was unable to return any money to the university. Proposing that the UI could actually make money in theI-A is a ludicrous proposition.

The Vandal Scholarship Board recently boasted about a $615,000 profit for UI football, but assuming that this paid for other sports, and adding the generous UI Foundation gift of $500,000 to the legislative subsidy, the deficit is at least $2.4 million. The same logic would apply to an academic department: it could not claim that it had made a profit unless its external grants exceeded the appropriated funds given to it.

We object to the tone and implication of the Vandal Scholarship Board’s recent statement that declared: “Faculty, staff, and employees should get on board. The UI is committed to I-A athletics and it is time for the employees to step forward and support the program.” The faculty has gone on record to eliminate appropriated funds from UI athletics, and the UI moved to I-A without proper consultation with and approval from the faculty. According to the UI Constitution the “immediate governance” of the university is in the hands of the faculty and we demand that faculty self-determination be respected.

In 2002 three untenured engineering professors were fired even though one had a $5 million research grant. In 2004 the UI administration authorized the elimination of the fine arts department, but AFT, student, and community action stopped it. At the same time this same administration was granting UI athletics $822,600 that should have been used to save these programs.

Early in 2004 UI Press, with nationally acclaimed titles and operating without any subsidy, was on track to be in the black for the first time in many years. The administration shut down the press and sold its best seller Bold Spirit to Random House for $20,000. Caxton Press in Caldwell is now selling the remaining titles and returning money to the UI every month. The UI Press was expected to be self-supporting, and we think that UI athletics should held to the same standard.

The UI faculty has not received a pay raise in three years, so we are very dismayed to learn that the second highest raise for fiscal year 2004, $15,000, went to the UI basketball coach. In fact, 10.6 percent ($32,516) of the 2004 pay raises went to UI coaches, while UI coaches comprise only 4.3 percent of faculty and exempt employees.

UI athletic director Rob Spear recently reported substantial increases since 1996, the last year that the UI was in the Big Sky Conference, in advertising revenues and guaranteed payouts for its away games. We would like to know, however, whether these increases are balanced out by more scholarships, increased travel costs, and fees now being paid to join the Western Athletic Conference, a conference where we would compete poorly.

Returning to the Big Sky would reduce the number of scholarships required, would not required us to add new sports, would reduce travel expenses considerably, would most likely increase attendance, and therefore increase the economic benefits to the community. Many more visitors from regional teams would come to home games, and more locals would come to see the Vandals play traditional opponents such as Eastern Washington, Montana, Montana State, Portland State, and Idaho State. We are pleased to note that former Vandal football coach Tom Cable supports a move back to I-AA status.

We are especially disturbed that, even before receiving any input from the general faculty, President White has declared that the UI will not reconsider membership in I-A athletics. We are also concerned about statements from the UI new chief financial officer that the UI is not spending enough to compete at the I-A level. Does this mean that he will recommend that even more appropriated monies will be used to accomplish this?

We are further concerned about talk in regards to building a larger football stadium, primarily because the UI has yet to meet the required average attendance of 15,000 fans. The 2004 homecoming game at WSU’s Martin Stadium drew a paltry 9,425 fans. Average home attendance since 2000 has been 12,582 and 14,048 since becoming I-A. The Kibbie Dome is a fine and sufficient facility and the Big Sky is good enough for a small university with no population base for increased attendance. We are quite willing to cheer “Go Vandals” but only in the proper context of academics first and athletics second.

At a recent meeting of the UI Economics club, some letters from an UI alumnus was shown to show that moving to I-A athletics would boost contributions to the university dramatically. But studies have shown that this is simply not the case. Here is what the Vice President of the University of Notre Dame says: “There is no empirical evidence demonstrating a correlation between athletic department achievement and [alumni] fund-raising success.  A number of researchers have explored this putative relationship, and they all have concluded that it does not exist.”  In fact, prestigious I-A universities–Wisconsin, Michigan, UCLA, Texas, and Washington–rank 126, 128, 134, 136, and 144 respectively on the “Alumni Giving List” in a recent U. S. News and World Report. Michigan has won the most national championships, second only to Texas, but this success does not compute into support for the schools.

At a recent UI Faculty Council meeting, President White was very misleading in describing the $2.4 million state subsidy to UI athletics as “seed money.”  When we receive seed grants for our research, they are one time grants that are expected to garner much larger external grants.  The $2.4 million is not seed money; rather, it increases ever year and it must be used for salaries not scholarships. White claims that the UI receives a great return on the investment of its state funds because 313 student athletes receive $2 million in scholarships, but he did not disclose that only $1million of this amount comes from the Vandal Scholarship Fund.

We fully support the concept of scholar athletics and we commend these students for their achievements. (Following the proposals of the Drake University Group, we do suggest that separate tutorials for athletes be abolished.) We also support programs for training athletic trainers and managers. Just as other academic units are being cut, it is only fair that these programs also be reduced to realistic levels.  Geological and mining engineering students were forced to go elsewhere in 2003, and UI arts students were frantic in 2004 when their dean tried to shut down their programs.

Finally, if it Robert Spear is correct that going back to the Big Sky will be “financial suicide,” then we should thoroughly rethink our commitment to intercollegiate sports, because it is clear to us that the goal to make the UI competitive at the I-A level will be a serious financial drain on the UI for years to come.

 Note: Steven Peterson, a UI economist who has done extensive research on UI athletics and who supports the UI’s move to-A, has cleared this position paper for factual errors. (The exception was coaches’ salaries which can be checked against the UI budget book.) The NCAA study “Revenues and Expenses of Intercollegiate Athletics of Division I & II Intercollegiate Athletic Programs” was done by Daniel L. Fulks of the University of Kentucky. The figures for Michigan and Wisconsin are taken from Andrew Zimbalist’s Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports. The material on alumni giving is taken from Murray Sperber, Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1999), pp. 236, 237.

Response by Robert Spear, UI Athletic Director

University of Idaho Argonaut, November 16, 2004

Note: The AFT’s response follows.

First, we want to thank the Argonaut for providing an opportunity to respond to the Idaho Federation of Teachers’ position on the University of Idaho’s Department of Athletics.
We certainly understand the obstacles faced by our university at this time; however, if there is going to be a debate surrounding the value of athletics we want to start with factual information.
Our athletic department budget has increased since 1995, but it has been our ability to attract external revenue that is behind this growth. In fiscal year 1996 advertising dollars generated $114,000. In fiscal year 2005 that figure is $460,000. Game guarantees in fiscal year 1996 were $125,000. Since that time game guarantee revenue has averaged more than $1 million per year for the past five years. Annual fund contributions to the Vandal Scholarship Fund generated $600,000 in fiscal year 1996; it now exceeds $1 million. NCAA revenues also have increased by $250,000.
These increases to our programmatic revenue are a direct link to our classification as a Division I-A football playing institution. Without playing Division I-A football, our game guarantees would decline from $1 million to $250,000. Because the NCAA only allows Division I-A schools to count one victory against Division I-AA schools once every four years for bowl eligibility purposes, our scheduling opportunities against Division I-A schools would be limited. We would no longer be able to schedule rival games against Washington State and Boise State. Advertising dollars and contributions to the Vandal Scholarship Fund would decline by an estimated 30 percent.
Going back to Division I-AA would reduce our scholarship obligations, but the decrease in revenue would be so significant that the department of athletics would lose an estimated $500,000 annually. This information is consistent with the information provided to the Idaho State Board of Education when it approved our entry into the Sun Belt and Western Athletic conferences.
Both the University Vision and Resources Task Force report and the Idaho Federation of Teachers’ editorial mention the $500,000 of unrestricted institutional support from the university. This support was provided so athletics could absorb the obligation of expenditures previously paid from other institutional budgets (e.g. conference membership dues, athletic insurance and physician payments) and for the role athletics plays in helping the University of Idaho and the UI Foundation raise money.
Even when you include this amount as additional institutional support, the total increase in institutional support, gender equity and unrestricted gift revenue totaled $1.5 million since fiscal year 1996. Over this same time our scholarship costs and the programmatic costs of adding two women’s sports as required by Title IX increased by the same $1.5 million.
Had the IFT correctly researched the funding of our athletic program, they would have realized it is not possible for the university to allocate additional appropriated funds to the department of athletics. The SBOE has a cap that prohibits state institutions from allocating additional appropriated funds. The cap increases or decreases by the rate of change in general education funds allocated by the SBOE.
The reference that our basketball coach received a $15,000 pay increase also is inaccurate. Our basketball coach will see a raise only if he meets the incentives in his contract. Finally, averaging 15,000 people for home games is possible. In our analysis of previous home games against WAC schools we did exceed the 15,000 required average.
Let us not forget the academic component of a successful athletic program. At the present time our athletic department employs more than 100 students (non-athletes) from various colleges. These students gain valuable experience from our complex business environment, including marketing, promotions, development, sports information, administration, compliance, academic support, tutoring, athletic training, ticket management, video, computer support, equipment management, facility management, game operations, statistics, media, strength and conditioning, and coaching.
The department of athletics also teamed with the College of Education/Division of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance in developing an athletic training major. This program was developed by a UI athletic trainer who, while pursuing her doctorate at UI, provided the foundation for this program to earn its CAAHEP/JRC-AT accreditation. Currently, there are approximately 60 students enrolled in the program, with 16 fulfilling their clinical requirements in the department of athletics.
These academic opportunities provide real life experiences that allow students from the University of Idaho to supplement their education, gain employment and become viable citizens. Because of these experiences, they become proud alumni and give back to our university. The department of athletics serves as a rallying point for our alumni. We remain committed to being an integral part of the fabulous living, learning environment we have at the University of Idaho.
Blaming President Tim White for our commitment to Division I-A and criticizing Jay Kenton, our new financial vice president, is unfortunate. The decision to move to Division I-A and accept an invitation into the Western Athletic Conference was done by previous administrations. President White and Vice President Kenton have inherited many issues that will take time to work through. It is time we rally around our new leaders and not pit programs against one another.

Response to Spear

I would like to respond to Robert Spear’s column on the athletics program in your Nov. 16 issue.
With regard to alleged factual errors in the AFT’s column on that day, I would simply call on Steven Peterson, who has researched the athletics issue and supports UI’s move to I-A sports. He assured me that there were no errors in our position paper.
With regard to the raise for the basketball coach for 2004, the UI budget book listed $15,000, the second highest raise that year, in the same way that all other raises were listed.  These raises are added to the base salary; they are not, as Spear implies, based on future performance.
Spear says nothing about the deficit (at least $1.9 million for fiscal 2004) that UI athletics creates for a budget that is already $20-30 million in the red.  (That deficit is $2.4 if football’s $615,000 profit paid for other UI sports.) The claim that competition in the Western Athletics Conference will earn money for the UI flies in the face of facts.
If funds from state legislatures are subtracted, the national average for I-A schools, according to an NCAA study, is a $237,000 deficit. Between 1998 and 2000 the University of Michigan lost $7 million in its athletics program, and in 1998 the University of Wisconsin lost $286,700 even though it went to the Rose Bowl.
In 2002 three engineering professors were fired even though one had a $5 research grant. Early in 2004 UI Press, with nationally acclaimed titles and operating without any subsidy, was making money for the first time in many years. The administration shut down the press and sold its best seller Bold Spirit to Random House.   The UI Press was expected to be self-supporting, and we think that UI athletics should held to the same standard.
Spear does acknowledge the generous $500,000 gift from the President’s office, but does not justify the $322,600 was added to his budget for the current fiscal year. This $822,600 increase represents a grave insult to faculty and staff faced with huge budget cuts.
We fully support the concept of scholar athletics and we commend these students for their achievements.  We also support programs for training athletic trainers and managers.  Just as other academic units are being cut, it is only fair that these programs also be reduced to realistic levels.
Nick Gier, President, American Federation of Teachers, State Chapter