Schneider: College athletics prove to be a bigger priority for universities

The P.J. Fleck contract extension is one more instance of UMN proving they care more about their athletics program than the education programs.

Ellen Schneider

It has become increasingly hard to listen to the news about the University of Minnesota’s athletic programs, as more and more money seems to be poured into the Gopher athletics, as academic spending remains stagnant. As a student who has already incurred thousands in debt to attend this University, who rushes from class to work, and back again, I found the news of P.J. Fleck’s contract extension particularly hard to swallow. 

It has become clear to me that this University, and higher education as a whole, prioritizes athletics over academics. As a student with virtually no athletic ability, I walk around campus knowing that I am second to those who do. Despite another losing season for the Gophers, Coach Fleck was awarded an extension from 2022, and will be paid roughly $3.6 million per year. In comparison, President Eric Kaler is making $625,250 per year. 

The willingness to prioritize athletics over academia, is reflective of what we value as a society: money and entertainment. Universities all over the country need to regain focus of what their mission is.

Universities’ missions should be to prepare their student body to be informed and productive members of society, not diligent spectators of sporting matches. Yet, nationwide spending on athletics has increased 35 percent, meanwhile academic spending increased only 2.6 percent per student. There is no reason there should be such a large variation between spending increases, if academics are truly the central focus of universities. 

This University’s athletics program is unique, in that its reputation is riddled with scandal and corruption, and yet incredible amounts of money continue to be spent on it. Our athletics program is a poor representation of our students and what we have to offer. Despite it’s ill-performance and disrepute, more resources are given to it. The athletics program borrowed $5.6 million from the University’s general fund this year, despite already being budgeted a $7 million yearly subsidy.

As for scandal, during Norwood Teague’s tenure as athletics director, he spent tens of thousands on alcohol, parties and pricey hotels. Inappropriate behaviors in the athletics program go beyond spending, as Teague was also reportedly sexually harassing top administrators. 

Fleck was hired in attempt to bring a youthful hope into the program, after 10 players faced discipline for a sexual assault investigation in December. He is essentially a glorified figurehead who was brought on in a futile attempt to distract donors and students from the corrupt and entitled culture that’s rampant throughout the program. 

The University should first acknowledge that this issue is prevalent, and begin to prioritize their students as much as their athletes. Coaches should never be paid more than the top administrators. While I realize that sports are a source of revenue, that doesn’t mean that they should trump academics. 

The University has also made a new media deal, which is expected to increase Gophers athletics $17 million in the next year, none of which will be going towards academics. I take issue with the fact that the University continuously devotes resources to the athletics program, allows them to borrow more money than budgeted, and doesn’t see any of their revenues. Television revenues are highly lucrative, and some of that money should be going toward academics.