In their response to Akron-AAUP’s Position Paper on Athletics, the University made a number of claims which we would like to comment on.
(1) The Administration mischaracterizes the report of the University Council Budget & Finance Committee’s focus group.
The Committee did not make a recommendation regarding expenditures for auxiliaries, including athletics, but did state that members “believe that it is necessary to further reduce Athletics expense[s], to help us confront the financial challenges that lie ahead of us” (See Report, emphasis added). In contrast, the same group noted that expenditures for instruction are higher than peers and recommended that the University “begin aligning” with their peers but noted that additional expenditures “may be warranted by the global health emergency.”
Such a recommendation does not indicate that academic spending should be slashed while athletic spending continues with abandon.
(2) The Administration has failed to provide supporting documentation for its claims on the costs that would be incurred if the University left the Mid-American Conference (MAC), apart from the one-time withdrawal fee. The Administration has not provided documentation for the claimed $12.7 million in liquidated damages from football contracts through FY27, and it is curious that the Administration would find it fiscally prudent to commit to such long-term liability while it increasingly relies on contingent faculty to retain “flexibility.”
Interestingly, in a February 2017 report to the Board of Trustees, the projected liquidated damages for dropping football were reported to be $8.2 million – approximately 75% of the number now cited. This causes us to ask, has the university made new and reckless long term commitments to the football program amounting to $4M since 2017?
The Administration has also failed to provide documentation for its claims about loss of revenue. Without supporting information, these estimates cannot be verified. However, even if these sources could be verified, athletics still operates at a total net loss ($24.3M in 2018, $26M in 2019). If we switched conferences to reduce expenditures, while those revenues might be lost, the savings from reduced expenditures are much greater in magnitude. UA gains money by making the change, it does not lose money.
In our position-paper, we argued that by looking at the median spending for Division II institutions ($6M per year) we’d see what UA could reasonably expect to save by moving to Division II. We still contend that given the University’s current financial challenges this would be the most sustainable and prudent model for future athletics’ spending.
In the interest of helping the University resolve its very real financial problems, here’s a real life example of an alternative scenario for remaining in NCAA Division I, by playing in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Youngstown State University is a Division I FCS institution that only spent a total of $15.9M on athletics in 2018. Their general fund supplies 69% of that ($10.95M). In contrast, UA spent $34.9M on athletics and supplied $24.3M from its general fund in 2018. Both schools’ athletics programs are similar (UA has 19 sports and 396 athletes, YSU 19 sports and 404 athletes). Therefore, if all UA did was copy the YSU model ($11M + $5M debt service on the stadium), we would save the difference between the draw on general funds (~$8.3M) if we could match the rest of their budget.
In a worst case scenario where we made the change all at once, paying full exit penalties to the MAC, we would see a net loss of $9.7M. The following years, we would see a cash savings from the general fund of $8.3M. After just five years, we would have spent $98M on athletics, but returned $23.5M to the general fund even with the $18M penalty. That’s $4.7M per year, or 43 bargaining unit faculty positions at median salary, with benefits.
Again, UA has not provided documentation or evidence for the penalties and they could be substantially smaller.
See the table below, and again, note that playing at Division II would give far greater savings – $48.5M over 5 years, which is $9.7M per year or 89 bargaining unit faculty positions at median salary, with benefits.
- Figures above are from public 2018 NCAA data and figures provided by UA administration.
- DIV II scenario is for the median DIV II program in the NCAA with a football program.
- Scenarios with ‘stadium’ indicated a General Fund subsidy of $5M to cover stadium complex debt added to all other costs of athletics for the given scenario.
(3) For just one example of how the Administration has over-estimated the costs for dropping divisions, universities in the MAC and competing in Division I FBS provide 85 football athletics scholarships (Division I NCAA Manual Bylaw 126.96.36.199; page 216). Universities with Division II Football programs provide 36 football athletics scholarships (Division II NCAA Manual Bylaw 188.8.131.52.1; page 173). The UA cost of attendance for an In-State/On Campus scholarship is $28,558. This means that the University of Akron is spending approximately $2,427,430 a year on football scholarships, and if the University moved to Division II, the cost of football scholarships would be reduced to $1,028,088, a savings of $1,399,342, not $638,000 as stated by the Administration and included in their graphic.
(4) The Administration’s response argues that the athletics reduction of $4.4 million should be compared to the University’s subsidy of athletics ($26 million in 2019) rather than total expenditures of $37 million as reported by the NCAA. Akron-AAUP disagrees since the revenue generated by academic programs is not being used to reduce the amount of academic expenditures that are subject to the 18% to 35% reduction.
The Administration believes that scholarships for athletes and debt-service for the stadium should not be counted as Athletics spending, even though those expenses would not have been incurred but for athletics. Akron-AAUP believes that the total expenditures for athletics must be reviewed, not solely the direct support athletics receives from the general fund. Furthermore, it is disingenuous to compare the debt service for the football stadium and complex to the debt service for buildings that provide fundamental services to students, such as the Taber Student Union which houses the cafeteria and meeting rooms, or that are integral to academic programs, such as the E. J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall.
(5) The source for Akron-AAUP’s statement regarding donor contributions is clearly documented – the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which uses data that is self-reported by the University to the NCAA. By contrast, the Administration has failed to provide a breakdown of its numbers regarding “giving” to athletics or a description of what kinds of “gifts” are included, versus the donations included in the data relied on by the Knight Commission. The data reported as “Donor Contributions” by the Knight Commission does not include compensation or benefits paid by a third party or athletics-restricted endowments, which are shown as “Other Revenue.” Nor does it include corporate sponsorships, which are separately accounted for.
We only wish that the Administration defended its academic programs with such zeal.
Again, at a time when the university is facing a projected budget shortfall of $65M and is planning to lay off permanent faculty, we call on the Administration to make a serious commitment to reducing its spending on athletics.
If not now, when?