The “Big Bucks” are not Big Enough

American dollar, money & banking

In a March 16, 2023 article in the Jambar (the Youngstown State University student newspaper) it was reported that the YSU Athletic Program brings in over $1 million every year in sponsorships. While a million dollars is a large sum of money the article failed to mention an important detail, namely, the amount of money YSU spends each year on athletics. Conservatively, an estimated subsidy of $7.4 million goes to the Athletic program each year (a number that exceeds $12M if you count the scholarships as lost revenue). 

To fully understand the impact of YSU’s spending on athletics here are a few important facts:

  1. Based on their own budget numbers YSU spends over $25,000 per student-athlete before scholarships. This money goes toward coaches, support staff, trainers, and facilities.
  2. The cost to students in 2020 was $1,079 per year regardless of whether they played a sport or attended a sporting event. Since this number was based on dividing the cost by the number of students, that number is now higher as YSU undergraduate enrollment has declined (9,305 FTE in 2020 to 8,584 FTE in 2022).
  3. As student enrollment has declined and the university has cut academic programs, the athletic budget has increased with the addition of $800,000 in new sports in the last year.

To state the obvious, the purpose of a university is education, not athletics—although some in the administration choose to equate athletic “programs” with academic programs—these are not the same. A student cannot enroll in football, softball, basketball, or soccer, and it’s hard to have a team that is “under-enrolled” when you provide a majority of athletes with scholarships. Whether the board of trustees or administration wants to admit it, athletics is a luxury that we are less and less able to afford.

What makes all of this more troubling is that we don’t have to spend this money, nor do we have to choose between academics and athletics. For example, Buffalo State a school with 6,445 students has a Division III athletic program with approximately 419 student-athletes. The total cost to run the program is $5,053,187 and it generates $5,062,029 in revenue which resulted in a profit of $8,842 dollars. This near-break-even program supports 13 sports including Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Ice Hockey, Soccer, Swimming and Diving, and Track and Field. Additionally, it supports Men’s Football and Women’s Volleyball. By moving from Division I to Division III, YSU could keep the benefits of college athletics while lowering or even eliminating the costs.

For the last three years, YSU has been “right-sizing” the university budget through cuts to faculty and staff. Perhaps it is finally time to refocus on the core academic mission of the university and give serious consideration to right-sizing our athletic budget as well.

Mandates may not increase hesitancy.

“In the four studies, compared to free choice, requirements strengthened vaccination intentions across racial and ethnic groups, across studies, and across levels of trait psychological reactance. The results consistently suggest that fears of a backlash against vaccine mandates may be unfounded and that requirements will promote COVID-19 vaccine uptake in the United States.”

Harvard Doesn’t Need Your Money (but others do)

Dear Millionaires and Billionaires,

How about putting your money in places where it can have a major impact on the lives of socio-economically disadvantaged students, rather than those—the majority of whom—have been privileged their entire lives. At my public university it is not uncommon to have students working 30 to 40 hours a week while taking a full load of classes. Many of these same students also have children of their own, and are attempting to balance work, family, and school.
So I’m asking you to imagine a public university so well funded that it could offer these students smaller class sizes with greater individual attention, taught by full time faculty, all while paying lower tuition.

Faculty too would benefit with smaller teaching loads and additional time for research. Faculty should not have to struggle to find time to stay current in their field—the same research and scholarship that benefits student in the classroom as well as the faculty member performing it.

Why am I mentioning this? Recently, the Harvard Magazine wrote that Harvard’s endowment had risen $11.3 billion to $53.2 billion over the last year. Additionally, even while in the midst of a pandemic, it ran a $283 million surplus. Its surplus alone could fund the entire operation of my public university for almost two years.

So, if you really want to do the most good, perhaps you should consider donating to a university where your contribution will literally change the life and life prospects of its students—rather than supporting schools that have more money than they know what to do with.