Athletic departments need to share more money with the academic side

“No matter the schedule, no matter the SDSU escape, no matter anything, Mizzou is 4-0. That’s all that matters folks. Survive and advance.”

That tweet was sent shortly after Missouri’s 51-23 football trouncing of Miami (Ohio) and it really irks me. It’s that mentality that drives one of the most infuriating practices in college athletics.

I’ve been know to have my head in the sand about a lot of issues but yesterday I took it out long enough to see the story in the Columbia Missourian. It seems last week’s football opponent, San Diego State, was paid nearly a million dollars to come here to play the Tigers. So the university that hasn’t given raises in three years and is considering a tuition hike paid out $850,000 to play one football game.

This is nearly pure reaction to the Missourian’s story (I haven’t done much research or crunched the numbers) but if the athletic department can afford to pay out this much money, then there’s an imbalance in our system — at Mizzou and probably many other colleges.

So far Missouri has paid out more than $1.3 million to the football team’s three non-conference opponents These payments are called guarantees in the sports world and they are used to lure lesser opponents to come play against us. Though is seems like humiliation, the weaker team gets to play against stiffer competition and their school get some bank.

The other two guarantees went to McNeese State ($310,000) and Miami of Ohio ($200,000.) According to the story, since 2003 Missouri has been paying more than $1.2 million a year in guarantees.

I’m trying to figure out what that money will bring back to the university — is there such a thing as ROI on football guarantees? There’s probably not much that Mizzou or Missouri gets back directly from SDSU. The payoff comes in things like inflated rankings, which will make more people want to come to the games and get more alums to give big donations to the program. Donors like winners.

Victories supposedly help boost player morale and self esteem. (But as we learned last week against SDSU, guarantees don’t guarantee a victory.) Lots of victories put the team in position for a bowl game, which comes with big pay-offs of their own. (The 2009 season Rose Bowl paid out $18,000,000 per team, but Missouri doesn’t  get to play in the traditional Big Ten/Pac-10 game.)

And in theory, all of this attention will also bring attention, donations and more students to the university. But not pay raises.

I know that this university’s revenue-generating sports programs do bring a lot of revenue to the university, which helps support the non revenue-generating sports and the university. But I wish more of that revenue also went to the academic side of the university. Mizzou does not have competitive salaries. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, “the average salary for professors at Mizzou was $111,200 in the fall of 2008, third from the bottom when ranked with 17 peer ranked institutions in surrounding states.”  http://www.columbiatribune.com/mu-salary-database/ And someone else is getting my share of that $111,000 — my salary is nowhere near that amount.

We lose good instructors and can’t attract others because of these low wages. And the lower cost of living argument really only goes so far. When you’re spending your weekends traveling to Kansas City and St. Louis in order to get more culture and diversity, that salary doesn’t last very long.

In my mind, there’s more balance that could be had, more sharing of the wealth from the athletic department. After all, this is an academic institution, not an athletic institution.

But you know that the really pathetic fact is? According to the Missourian story, “Missouri pays out considerably less than Nebraska, Ohio State, Texas and most SEC schools.”

Share the wealth, people.

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4 responses to “Athletic departments need to share more money with the academic side

  1. To be fair to the MU Athletics Department (for just a moment), it was one of only 14 FBS programs to turn a profit last year.(Source: http://www.themaneater.com/stories/2010/8/31/u-athletics-one-14-ncaa-programs-turn-profit/ ). I wish I could hyperlink, but oh well.

    That being said, it’s ridiculous for MU to pay $850,000 to a football team whose entire job is to serve as a glorified sacrificial lamb. McNeese State at $200,000 sounds like a deal! These teams come to Mizzou to lose in a big away. In doing so, they pad our numbers and make a top 25 ranking more feasible. With that comes national prestige, and the big alumni/broadcasting dollars. Like you said, “Donors like winners.”

    For all the good a team like McNeese State or Miami (OH) does, we could find any other 11 warm bodies to shove into football uniforms and put on Faurot Field. What’s Rock Bridge’s football team doing this weekend? Or the guys on Ninth St., for that matter? I’m sure they could use the money.

    I’ve reluctantly come to accept the idea this university is a financial black hole into which our tuition money disappears, and reemerges as $800 chairs and San Diego State University-like opponents. It’s a sad reality, and maybe too cynical, but it feels more true with every revelation like this.

    I don’t draw a salary from this financial abyss we call MU. But I can say it’s galling to know that I fund this incompetence, both as a student, and as a fan.

  2. A reader sent this link to me: Colleges: Where the money goes:
    Athletic teams, administrators and tenured professors soak up huge chunks of colleges’ budgets, and tuition and fees rise to keep up. One of the lines in the story: “It’s true that alumni donations sometimes increase during winning seasons, but most of those gifts go specifically to athletics or other designated uses, not toward general educational programs.” http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/12/opinion/la-oe-dreifushacker-college-cost-20100912

  3. Karen — As I wrote in reply to your tweet, I first took issue with your “headline” tweet (“This is where the money for my raise is going???”). I don’t have exact figures, but the Athletic Department budget is on the order of 95% self-generated. So, at most, you could make the argument that 5% of your raise (or lack of one; I haven’t had one in two years myself due to the same budget freeze you’re under) is due to Athletics. Rather, that total is more like whatever percentage of the total campus budget is going to Athletics, and I’d bet my house that that number is in the fractions of a percent. [And whatever support campus is providing is not going to coaching salaries or whatever other perceived extravagance (damn free markets), but to capital debt service — the same line items that every entity on campus deals with at some point or another in their building cycles. And the Curators are talking about taking on hundreds of millions of dollars in more construction bonds for the four campuses, so that seems to be a more inviting target than Athletics. FWIW, my understanding is even the relatively small support that campus does offer will disappear either this fiscal year or next.] Point: There are 100 other factors more decisive than Athletics in preventing your raise.

    And it’s precisely those gifts you excerpt from the L.A. Times story that makes it so; were it not for the private support of donors, Mizzou would not be among the 14 schools David mentioned above. I believe Nebraska is among those 14 (so, too, is Texas), and actually HAS sent money back toward the academic side of campus, but NU officials recently announced that that support will end this year.

    Now, on to the meat of your post: Guarantees. The bottom line is that there IS a bottom line. With rare exception (among them Mizzou’s games in St. Louis and Kansas City vs. Illinois and Kansas, respectively), big-time schools like Mizzou make more money playing at home than on the road. So you need six or seven home games on your 12-game schedule. The Big 12 opponents are easy, which means you have two or three non-conference opponents to schedule in a given year. Problem is, not very many schools want to play in Columbia. So you often have to offer an incentive to do so. Add a little free-market economy to the mix, and bingo.

  4. Kevin, thank you very much for the perspective you provide here. I love the fact about 95 percent of the department’s money being self generated. There’s so much more of this story to be mined, I hope someone follows through and will give us a more complete picture of the situation. (For those who don’t know, Kevin works in the athletic department. And he’s a damned hard worker who deserves the raises he’s missed.)

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