Faculty Request Reduction in Subsidizing Sports at Ohio

Inside Higher Ed published an article about a resolution approved by the Faculty Senate at Ohio University for the administration to reduce the amount of money from the institution’s operating budget used to subsidize its intercollegiate athletics program, arguing that the program’s “unsustainable expenditures” jeopardize the university’s ability to “prioritize academics. The report noted that 75% of the $20.3 million annual athletics budget at Ohio University is supported by institutional subsidies, including student fees — the fourth highest subsidy of a Division I-Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) athletics program in the nation.

The resolution requested the administration to “seek rapid and meaningful alternatives to the current ‘arms race’ approach to intercollegiate athletics funding, with the objective of meaningfully reducing [the] institutional subsidy.”

Ohio University English professor Joe McLaughlin, who chairs the Faculty Senate, stated that “academic and nonacademic units are being asked to make cuts,” and that the university has frozen tenure-track hiring. “Our strategic plan talks a lot about academic excellence and maintaining and improving faculty to enhance that excellence,” said McLaughlin. “It doesn’t talk a lot about athletics. When it comes time for budgetary decisions, new money is flowing to athletics in a way that it isn’t flowing elsewhere. Also, there are very few people on campus who believe that once the athletics budget has been balanced, they will be held strictly accountable in balance.”

McLaughlin told Inside Higher Ed that the increasing spending for athletics is a national problem and argued that he would like to see the Mid-American Conference discuss how to wean its members’ athletic programs off of institutional subsidies. The ideas outlined in the Faculty Senate resolution include “salary caps for coaches and athletic administrators, weighted to reflect the size of the university.”

Despite the subsidization, Ohio University athletics has a $7 million deficit. As part of the solution to fund athletics and pay off the deficit, Ohio University will increase student fees this fall by $18 to $530, and at the same time reduce student services provided by the fees. The Student Senate voted in favor of the increase with an understanding of the economic difficulties facing the university and the athletics department.

“There is a misconception by a lot of faculty that athletics is being held harmless,” said Robert Leary, Student Senate president. “That’s just not true. Their budget is being cut. The amount they can spend next year has been reduced tremendously. I know [Ohio] doesn’t have the most prestigious athletics program, but having a Division I sports program does contribute to the overall experience here at the university. I know a lot of students who are supporting athletics through all of this.”

A January article in Inside Higher Ed listed the 21 highest subsidized athletics programs, with ten of them from the Mid-American Conference, including Ohio University. Only a few athletics programs are able to operate without any support from the institution. This disparity between so-called “haves” and “have-nots” demonstrates the increasing pressure on institutions with smaller and less-well-known athletics programs to rely on institutional subsidies to remain in the NCAA’s top tier, Division I-FBS.