Regents discuss sports financial report, subsidies

Elizabeth Putnam

The University athletics departments will need $74.7 million in subsidies over the next five years, University officials announced Friday.

The amount is $10 million less than predicted in December.

Merging the separate men’s and women’s athletics departments, a move officials have been considering for some time, could save up to $1.4 million per year in administrative expenses, said University Vice President Tonya Moten Brown.

Moten Brown presented the athletics financial report to the Board of Regents on Friday, the second such evaluation commissioned by the board.

The original report projected an athletics budget gap of $31 million, but athletics officials now say the deficit is approximately $21 million.

Regents expressed concerns about the origin of athletics subsidies and the potential drawbacks of spending so much on such a small niche of the University community.

“Focusing on the projected gap becomes a policy issue with subsidies,” Moten Brown said.

Last year, athletics received $10 million in subsidies – an amount expected to increase due to lower-than-anticipated football revenue and construction debt.

On average, the University will spend $1.8 million more on athletics than six other Big Ten universities in fiscal year 2002. The bulk of the added expense is spent on marketing and sales, according to the report.

However, women’s athletics director Chris Voelz questioned the validity of the report’s financial outlook. Rather than needing more than last year’s $10 million subsidy, Voelz said, she thinks athletics will need only $3 million or $4 million in assistance – substantially less than has been awarded in the past.

Voelz said she stands firmly behind separate departments, and she thinks too much focus is put on merging them.

“This is just one of four big topics surrounding the issue,” Voelz said. “The athletics issue is complex, and it’s a national issue.”

The University is one of only five schools nationwide with separate men’s and women’s departments. It is the only such institution in the Big Ten.

Several ideas to combat the deficit were presented, including a proposal for some teams to drop into lower divisions of competition.

However, the idea was quickly disregarded because of the expense of competing at a lower level.

Regent Michael O’Keefe said he is concerned about the small number of students benefiting from the millions of University dollars spent on athletics.

“Where investment options should be is in the spirit of the institution,” O’Keefe said.

Twin Cities Student Representative Venora Hung said providing more subsidies to athletics does not reflect the University’s priority on education.

“Every dollar spent on athletics is a dollar spent away from education,” she said.

The University has 734 intercollegiate athletes with a $45 million operating budget. Sport clubs have 996 participants with a $400,000 budget, and intramural sports support 8,655 participants with a $182,000 budget.

Some regents said they want the departments to be self-sufficient, but University President Mark Yudof said that is not realistic.

“It’s a modern notion to be self-sufficient,” Yudof said. “It’s a question of how to stabilize the funding.”

Regent David Metzen said it’s unlikely the University will ever stop subsidizing the departments.

“The issue will be how much,” Metzen said. “It’s not a self-sustaining issue.”

University officials will recommend possible athletics cuts to the board in April.

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]