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Archive for Monday, November 24, 2008

Athletics now essential to U.S. colleges

November 24, 2008

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The College of Charleston, a respected southern public university in South Carolina with more than 11,000 students, made what it considered an undisputable point with the construction of a new $44 million basketball arena.

State support for the institution has been lagging over the years, while operating costs have gone through the roof. Something had to be done to help address the fiscal hemorrhage, to brighten the future of the college.

President George Benson has been upfront and forceful in explaining the need for additional resources, effectively noting the consequences of fewer dollars on faculty effectiveness and student learning. The college must not be starved, he reasoned.

So when it was discovered that the new arena did not include plans for space to officially entertain prospective donors, the trustees sprang into action, insisting on the addition of an upper-level suite for the president’s use. The added cost was dismissed as an investment.

Numerous colleges and universities have successfully applied the same logic. With rare exception, the major donor wants to be entertained, and by the president at a sporting event. Athletics opens the door to many forms of giving, but it often is only the first.

“It works or we would not be doing it,” one president of a large state university said. And he intends to raise between $2 billion and $3 billion, money that will be used for such things as student scholarships and financial aid packages and distinguished professorships. Named research and classroom buildings are frequent benefits of such hospitality.

Students and faculty members applaud the intent and results of fundraising campaigns, seeing enhanced opportunity for academic programs. Knowing that their burdens will be lightened, governors and state legislators encourage private support.

Chancellors and presidents who have not mastered the art of fundraising are certain to experience short tenures. More than ever, they need be surrounded by skillful athletic directors who know how to win on the football field and the basketball court while adhering to the NCAA rules. Contributors do not like to be embarrassed by athletic scandals.

A growing number of faculty members resent the bigness of college athletics, but many of them acknowledge that options are few given the dire need for resources. Many colleges and universities, public and private, have either just completed a major capital fund drive or are about to launch one.

“It clearly is a matter of survival,” one senior university head said. “The state is in no position to give us what we need and deserve; thus, the solicitation of private dollars.” Recent surveys of governors are not encouraging in terms of revenue generating possibilities for 2009.

Miles Brand, the able president of the NCAA, continues to worry about the amount of annual athletic operating budgets that is devoted to meeting bond requirements. And university presidents share the concern about the explosive expansion of facilities in recent times.

According to a College Board study, college prices in 2008-09 rose only slightly. That was hailed by many parents, students and politicians as welcome news. The future is less certain, however, with many college presidents convinced that significant tuition and fee increases are inevitable. They also worry about the future of federal and state loans for students and the future of room and board costs.

“The challenges have never been greater with the economic uncertainties of the day,” College Board President Gaston Caperton said. “We must protect education at all levels, and as never before. There is no future without educational achievement.”

It is ironic that collegiate games, as we like to think of them, are fundamental to colleges and universities, in this time of fiscal uncertainty. They are far more than entertainment for students, faculty, alumni and the general public; they have become essentials.

— Gene A. Budig is the former president/chancellor of Illinois State University, West Virginia University, and Kansas University, and past president of Major League Baseball’s American League.

Comments

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"Chancellors and presidents who have not mastered the art of fundraising are certain to experience short tenures. More than ever, they need be surrounded by skillful athletic directors who know how to win on the football field and the basketball court while adhering to the NCAA rules. "This is an absurd editorial. By definition and design, not every team can be a "winner." On average, teams will be average, which means that if maintaining a winning football or basketball team is essential in maintaining a successful academic institution, the majority of such institutions are on the path to failure.If our universities really do rely on wealthy donors to survive, and those wealthy donors insist on being wined and dined in ostentatious athletic facilities, then we have a much greater problem than bread and circuses can address.

Robert Rauktis 6 years ago

What's good for GM, is good for America.We shall see.If I see a glossy brochure asking for money, I think that if they can afford to print that brochure, they don't need MY money.They just need to have some budgeting sense.

Tony Kisner 6 years ago

If Gene is correct KU should not need additional monies from either the students or the regents for the next few decades. This logic reminds me of a don't do drugs commercial in the 80's " I use cocaine so I can work more, so I can by more cocaine."

Jerry Harper 6 years ago

Here are the top 20 colleges and universities as of 2006 in ENDOWMENT PER STUDENT. Look at all those athletic powerhouses. KU, by the way, comes in somewhere around 63rd (about $38,000 per student) - undoubtedly as a result of no skyboxes in the fieldhouse. 1. Princeton ($1.900 billion per student)2. Bryn Athyn 3. Yale 4. Rice 5. Harvard ($1.4 billion per student)6. Grinnell 7. Stanford 8. Pomona 9. Swarthmore 10. MIT 11. Amherst12. Baylor School of Medicine13. Williams14. Cal Tech15. Berea16. Dartmouth17. Wellesley18. Wabash19. Notre Dame20. Univ. of Chicago ($421,000 per student)...63. KU ($38,000)

KU_cynic 6 years ago

Budig is such a tool that he doesn't even understand the "costly and destructive arms race" analogy that so obviously applies to big time college sports. Nor does he have an appreciation for the morally corrosive effects of emphasizing ever plushy sports programs -- both for the athletes and the well-heeled, tax-deducting their gifts donors who fuel this madness -- at a time when college costs for all students are rising dramatically and as the US falls behind other countries in its production of highly-skilled people.Also, I wonder if any of the anonymous academic leaders quoted in Budig's little puff piece is his increasingly ineffectual successor at KU, Bob Hemenway.

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