OPINION: University increase in spending on athletics is not sustainable
TO THE EDITOR
I would like to set the record straight concerning my position on the substantial financial support given to the athletics program and its overall value to Central Michigan University. Though I am speaking only for myself in this letter, I know many colleagues share my view. I am not opposed to CMU having an NCAA Division I athletics program. We have been in Division I for as long as I have been here (2003) and well before. However, the growth in spending on athletics threatens the long-term financial strength of our university.
The figures I will present are all taken from CMU’s budgets available online. So that we can make meaningful comparisons over time, I have adjusted dollar amounts for inflation using the Consumer Price Index published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Thus, all the amounts reported below are in 2017 dollars.
Our athletics program is budgeted to receive an estimated $22.5 million subsidy for the 2016-17 fiscal year that ends on June 30. In the 2006-07 budget, this amount was equal to $15.3 million after my calculations factoring in inflation. Thus, the real increase since 10 years ago in the financial subsidy to athletics is equal to $7.3 million, which is 47 percent.
In order to understand where this growth has occurred, you need to know that there are two classes of coaches at CMU: faculty and non-faculty. The latter category includes the head coaches of the largest programs: football and both men’s and women’s basketball teams. Salaries for faculty coaches increased by just more than $0.4 million in these 10 years, after you adjust for inflation.
Thus, our hard-working faculty coaches are not responsible for the dramatic increase in the subsidy to the athletics program over the last decade. In this time, however, we saw an overall increase in total compensation equal to $4.4 million. This figure includes head coaches’ salaries, bonuses and fringe benefits. While this amount also includes faculty coaches’ benefits, you should know that faculty have not received an additional penny in contributions to our health plans for nine years, although our medical premiums have grown substantially, and our retirement benefits have remained flat as well. This is also true for staff in Facilities Management, Office Professionals and other employee groups. Thus, the overwhelming increase in compensation went to just a few people at the top.
The other area where the athletics budget grew dramatically was in supplies and equipment, which will receive an additional $3.3 million under the current budget. This amount includes travel — it costs a lot of money to travel to Miami for a football game in December — uniforms, etc.
In conclusion, I feel privileged to have had scores of outstanding student athletes in my classes. I have enjoyed many athletic events here at CMU and plan to continue to support our programs. However, I do not support the enormous growth in subsidies to our athletics program, especially when we are making substantial cuts to our academic programs and laying-off dozens of people in our community.
This growth in spending is not sustainable and does not seem necessary in order to maintain Division I status or field competitive teams. I call upon the Board of Trustees to reverse course and demonstrate real leadership in this time of crisis.
Past-president CMU Faculty Association
Professor, Department of Political Science and Public Administration