Long: Athletics funding unjustifiable


Photo: Craig Long/Iowa State Daily

Cyclone athletics exists as self-sufficient. But with budget cuts running rampant at Iowa State, should athletics be able to continuing spending millions on their program?

Craig Long

The three regent schools in the state (Northern Iowa, Iowa and Iowa State) in the past two years have seen funding from the state drop by over $100 million. During that time, contributions to the budget of the three schools by tuition has risen from 44 percent of the budget to 55 percent. That is a substantial amount of money cut from the three schools, and a drastic increase in percentage of funding given by tuition (the highest jump since 2001-2003).

And in case you haven’t noticed, at Iowa State we just got a brand new scoreboard at Jack Trice. It cost $5 million. The new football facility being constructed near Jack Trice was approved at a cost of $20.6 million. In 2009, a new basketball practice facility was opened. That cost $8 million. The new sports complex going in by the Towers is estimated to cost $13 million.

Doesn’t something about that strike you as odd? How in the world can Iowa State sustain huge budget cuts, yet commit to $46 million dollars in new construction?

The reason this is possible is that in Iowa, the athletics funding is different than the General University fund. Some of the funds for the new construction is provided via private donations. It still is a problem though.

Our athletics program is unaccountable to the university as a whole. In 2012, for the first time ever, it is projected to be self-sufficient. Up until this year, it required additional funding to operate ($1.6 million last year). Iowa’s program is self-sufficient, it doesn’t require outside funding from the state. Northern Iowa’s program is not self-sufficient; recently, they had to give up several athletic programs they could not afford.

Now, I love our athletics program. I fully support Cyclone athletics; it makes going to this university special. Rushing the field after the victory against Oklahoma State was the most memorable thing I have done in my time here. I’m not proposing that we axe any programs or anything. I just want all the funding to run through the university.

If funding ran through the university first, would we have a new scoreboard at Jack Trice? Probably not. But that’s fine. The purpose of this university is to educate. It is not to sponsor a professional program, with the purpose of making money. The athletics department here, as well as at Iowa and Northern Iowa, uses the university’s image to create name recognition. They use facilities on university property. It should not be a separate entity from the university when it comes to funding.

It isn’t as though most non-athletes attend a school because of its athletics program. Ask any UI fan here at Iowa State why they came, and it will likely be because we have some major that was appealing to them. So why should we allow our academic programs to suffer and deal with budget cuts, when the athletics department goes on a spending spree? College athletics (particularly football and basketball) are a multi-billion dollar industry; yet it only exists as long as the university does. If Iowa State closed, do you think Cyclone Athletics would still exist (even if it is becoming self-sufficient)? It couldn’t. It needs the university. Since the only reason that it has the opportunity to exist and draw in money is because of the university, the funding should go back into the University General Fund and be allocated as need be to the athletics department.

The highest paid state-employee is UI football coach Kirk Ferentz. He makes over $3.7 million per year. That makes him the fifth highest salaried college football coach in the nation, the highest in the Big 10. What exactly justifies that? Or, that the four highest paid employees in the state are all coaches? All of these people would be unemployed without the universities, and yet while budget cuts happen and non-athletics employees are asked to voluntarily take unpaid furloughs and retire early to save money, the money these coaches earn is guaranteed.

Our athletics department (as well as Iowa’s) raises a whole lot of money. Projected ticket sales for Cyclone athletics are enough to cover all budgeted operational expenses, support unit budgets, as well as internal operations. That’s before we talk about conference revenue ($16 million) or any other form of revenue.

If added into the university, the Athletics budget would total nearly 11 percent of the university’s total expenditures. That is, if it wasn’t subject to the cost cutting measures the rest of the university has gone through. I see no wrong in investing in certain projects to draw in more funding, but I don’t think that we would have begun some of the building projects we’ve done if it was coming out of the university general fund. I don’t think Iowa would have given Kirk Ferentz such a lucrative contract had they had to justify it to a student body paying thousands of dollars in tuition annually.

Even if all of the funding comes without touching tax dollars, the athletics program cannot be separated from the university. It is based in the university, so it should be responsible to the university. It would be beneficial to the educational quality provided by the regent universities, and in the end, that is why this whole system exists.