Sunday, July 17, 2011

Athletics Spending in the Southern

A short story in the Southern has picked up the athletics spending story, which originated in the Chronicle and was covered earlier here.  The only news to readers of this blog will be the administrative responses, which ranged from irrelevant through unpersuasive to incoherent (though, to be fair, one can't fairly evaluate a response once it's filtered through a third party).

Cheng noted that the athletics program makes up only 3% of the total SIUC budget, and that combining cuts last year and those planned for next, the athletics program will have taken a 7.5% cut.  That means their funding will have gone up by only 114.1%--a truly staggering blow to our spending on sports.  This unless, as seems likely, the 7.5% cuts she mentions came in budgets that were already slated to rise.  The final paragraph wasn't fully intelligible to me, but I think the claim was that ticket sales and donations were up--though, as the story itself indicates, they still form a small minority of total athletics spending.

Missing, notably, was any attempt whatsoever to say why spending money on athletics was a good idea.  Or why spending any money on athletics is a good idea. I'm not saying spending no money on intercollegiate athletics is an imaginable policy here (though it happens to be the policy of my rather strange alma mater).  I'm saying that any administrator called on this issue ought to be willing and able to make a positive case for athletics, rather than merely attempting to obfuscate the numbers. (Again, perhaps they attempted to make such a case and it didn't come through.)

Let's do some easy math. Athletics does make up only 3% of our budget--which means it totals more than $20 million annually. ($23.2 million, actually, but I round down to make the math easier--given the egregiousness of this increase, one can afford to spot the administration $3 million and still make one's case).  Spending on athletics has more than doubled over the past five years, and at least half of that increase came out of funds that could have been spent on other things (i.e., in student fees and direct and indirect institutional support).  Half of half of $20 million is $5 million.  That's $5 million additional dollars that the SIUC administration has decided to spend on athletics each year in recent years. Furloughs were to save us $2.6 million.

So one fair way of looking at it is this: your furlough days paid for athletics.  I don't know about you, but I'm not terribly happy about making an involuntary contribution of $1000 to Saluki Athletics.

What about the other $2.4 million in additional spending on sports?  How about we give that money back to students (who will have paid much of it in fees)?  What might that do for enrollment? Might a move from athletics toward academics not help make people believe that we are an institution with fine academic programs--which is supposedly the way we are trying to brand ourselves? Athletics spending seems better designed to help further our reputation as a party school--with all due respect to the tailgating community.

But perhaps a new logo will do the trick. May I recommend the ostrich, madame Chancellor?  You've already got it on your laptop.

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