NCAA issues warning on burgeoning budgets

Report sees Div. I risk to academic mission

October 31, 2006|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON -- Division I college sports programs need to curtail their big-spending habits or risk compromising their academic missions, according to a new NCAA report. It found that some schools' athletic spending increases are outpacing those of higher education by two to three times.

The report, urging a new period of "moderation," was compiled by 50 college and university chancellors and presidents, including Towson president Robert Caret.

Although the report found no looming financial crisis, it said evidence suggests that continued sports budget increases may create mammoth, "unsustainable" athletic programs that could threaten schools' values.

"We all understand capitalism and the free-market strategy," Caret said last night in a telephone interview after the report was released here. "Most of us that are college presidents would like to see more controls - they would have to be self-inflicted - to stop the commercialization because it distorts so much of what we do. It's a genie that we can't get back into the bottle."

At the University of Maryland, where Larry Leckonby, the athletic department's chief financial officer, says the athletic budget has risen from $37 million in 2002-03 to $51.2 million in 2006-07, top officials disagreed with the notion that spending increases are inherently bad.

"Our growth is off the chart in terms of what we do for women," athletic director Debbie Yow said. "It's grown a lot, and I'm proud of the growth. Our women deserve what they have and more. We're not spending the money in order to secure new revenues; we're doing it as an educational outreach."

Maryland has 27 sports teams and all - except men's basketball and football - operate at a deficit. The school, which added competitive cheerleading and women's water polo several years ago, says it has balanced its athletic department budgets since 1994, thanks largely to its two money-producing sports.

Maryland has enjoyed abundant athletic success since 2000, including winning men's and women's national basketball championships. It competes in the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference, which shares its sports revenues among the 12 member teams.

Not all schools are so lucky. "Only a handful of Division I institutions rely exclusively on funds generated by the athletics program to balance their athletics budget. The vast majority of schools must accomplish that through allocated funds," the report said.

"There is a limit as to how much can be subsidized without threatening the academic mission and values of the university," it said.

Maryland's biggest athletic expenditure, salaries and benefits, account for about $19 million of the current budget, according to Leckonby. He said the school offers 301 full scholarships or their equivalents, costing between $8 million and $9 million a year.

Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams is guaranteed $1.3 million a year and football coach Ralph Friedgen is guaranteed $1.1 million annually, The Sun reported in 2004 after obtaining their contracts in a Freedom of Information Act request. The report said both coaches can add to their pay with various bonuses.

While some academicians believe such salaries are too high, Maryland said it competes for coaches the same way it competes for quality professors. "We're going to be within the norms, but it is expensive and we're going to pay because we want the best coaches in the country to be here," Yow said.

Towson's athletic budget is about $12 million. It is balanced with a combination of student fees, ticket sales, fund-raising and sponsorships, according to Caret.

The NCAA lacks the authority to force schools to keep budgets in check, NCAA president Myles Brand said yesterday after the report was released at the National Press Club. It can't establish national standards as it did to improve athletes' graduation rates, Brand said.

"Dictating expenditure amounts by the NCAA is illegal; it's antitrust," Brand said. "Even if it were possible, universities and their boards would not be willing to have the NCAA home office dictate."

The former Indiana University president said the solution "is at the campus level, institution by institution."

On another matter, Brand said the NCAA would respond by Nov. 13 to a congressional committee asking why college athletics deserves its tax exemption in an era of massive TV deals and other commercialization.

Brand said the issue is "whether what you do is in the purpose of education."

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