Dannen: Athletics funding model outdated
Published: Monday, April 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2012 14:04
In the 2010-2011 academic year, the University of Northern Iowa allocated $4.6 million from its general education fund to athletics, a number members of United Faculty, the faculty union, believe is too high.
Troy Dannen, UNI’s athletic director, agrees.
“(UNI’s investment in athletics) is coming from a source that — and I’ve advocated this since the day I got here — it’s the wrong source. It shouldn’t come from the general fund,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “It’s in my best interest as athletic director for it to come from a more sustainable area.”
While all of UNI’s rivals in the Missouri Valley Conference receive subsidies from their institutions, many of them depend more on student fees than general fund allocations, including Southern Illinois University and Illinois State University, which each received more than $8 million last year.
Over the course of the next several years, Dannen would like to see UNI move to this student-fee-based model, with the general fund allocation ideally dropping down to match the $1.2 million student fee subsidy and the amount of student fees rising to $4.6 million to accompany that change – all with the $5.8 million total institutional subsidy remaining relatively constant.
In the past few years, the UNI faculty senate passed resolutions calling on the administration to reduce the amount of general fund monies going to auxiliaries to 3 percent of the fund and to 1 percent of the fund during times of financial emergencies. Many faculty see athletics subsidies as funds that should go to education, especially when cuts are being made to academics.
“These (subsidies) are real costs to the academic vitality of the university, that serve as a significant drain on resources available to academic teaching, particularly in light of recent initiatives to shave limited dollars out of current academic programs,” Frank Thompson, a finance professor, said in a report on UNI auxiliaries prepared for faculty members earlier this year.
The student fee model could assuage concerns from faculty members and state politicians about UNI’s use of general funds to support athletics, which currently receives nearly 3 percent of the university’s general fund. The student fee model could also prove more sustainable for the athletics program, Dannen said.
“It’s not subject to the ebb and flow of state appropriation,” he said. “As enrollment grows, there’s an opportunity for growth in that.”
The move to this new model would also mean an increased cost for students, however, as student fees would increase while tuition dollars currently going to athletics would likely be reallocated rather than reduced. Dannen believes such an increase would need to happen in small increments over a number of years.
“It’s a matter of how quickly,” he said. “… I would prefer to be as quick as possible, but I don’t think it’s fair or reasonable for that type of burden to be thrown onto students overnight.” Earlier this year, intercollegiate athletics submitted a request for a 3 percent increase from the Student Services Fee (SSF) for fiscal year 2014. More recently, however, athletics also submitted a proposal to increase the fee by $25 per student every year for next eight years, increases that would be accompanied by general fund reductions. Though no decision was made by press time, the SSF committee has discussed honoring the former request, which falls in line with the Higher Education Pricing Index range.
The committee has also discussed separating athletics fees from the SSF altogether to make athletic fee increases more transparent.
“The committee believes that at this point (athletics) should be made its own fee separate from the student services fee so that students understand exactly how much of their money is going to support athletics, which the committee then hopes will start a discussion about whether or not athletics is something students want to support through additional fees,” said Spencer Walrath, SSF committee chair and former student body president.
Though it’s currently unclear whether the university administration and the Board of Regents would support the creation of a separate fee, Walrath said the SSF committee felt athletics no longer applies under the SSF.
“We see the Student Services Fee as covering actual services to students — so, leadership training, the Northern Iowan, (Campus Activities Board) programming,” he said. “These are services provided to students, whereas athletics is really a service provided to, you could argue, to the entire Cedar Falls community, the entire UNI community or to 400 student-athletes. It depends on which way you look at it.”