Forum hears views on athletics’ financial woes

Latasha Webb

Amid fiscal challenges, members of the University athletics departments and the Board of Regents gathered Monday to hear the public’s solutions to the athletic administration’s plight.

The forum’s 26 speakers addressed the prospect of merging men’s and women’s athletics to save administrative costs.

Ten years ago the University subsidized 17.6 percent of the athletics departments’ budget. In 2000 that number increased to 23 percent, according to a report issued to the Board of Regents in December.

One month after receiving the report, University officials are digging through the departments’ costs in search of a solution.

Many women’s athletics supporters turned out to speak on behalf of maintaining separate athletics departments.

Supporters cited more than 10 years of 3.0 or better grade point averages for women athletes as well as high four-year graduation rates.

“Until the men’s department can demonstrate comparable GPAs and graduation rates, I fear a combination will prove counterproductive,” said Jim Cowles, a University donor and booster.

“I don’t have to wait an hour for medical attention or to meet my coach. Women are not put on the back burner,” said Shannaine Osbourne, captain of the women’s track and field team.

No representative spoke on behalf of the men’s department or in favor of merging the two departments.

But Tom Moe, director of men’s athletics, went to the meeting to listen.

“These are issues that we have talked about for several months, and the administration is well aware of them,” Moe said. “It’s a financial issue. It’s not a men’s versus women’s department or vice versa.”

Moe said the regents should address four key areas when examining the fiscal future of the departments.

First, Moe said, administrative expenses for University athletics exceed the average Big Ten administrative expenses by $1.8 million.

“On the basis of that information alone it would seem that there is an opportunity to partially address our financial situation by adjusting our structure,” Moe said.

He also said the athletics departments should increase fund raising, improve the football program to sell more tickets and look at overall expenses within the department.

“The challenge is, how does an athletics department consisting of three teams that generate a profit and 20 teams that represent a cost address these financial problems?” he asked.

Gary Wilson, the women’s track coach, also said the University needs to create and push fund-raising goals with the help of the University Foundation.

“One of our short-term goals should be to raise $6 million by 2004,” he said.

Other speakers, such as Kwame McDonald, a sports writer for the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder, suggested cutting the number of football scholarships to 60.

The only non-student-athlete to speak was Patrick Pederson, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, who told officials to consider moving some sports to Division II.

“The excess money spent to fuel athletics should be returned to education,” he said. “To have the seed money that usually goes to libraries, labs Ö is a breach of protocol.”

A second public forum will be held at the Gateway alumni center, Suite 600, Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.