It’s great that today EW is visiting UMass Lowell, which is riding high since announcing that its athletic teams will compete in Division 1 sports in the America East Conference.
I hope she is aware of the financial ramifications of that move and tempers any celebration of it with these sober facts. A new report by the Delta Cost Project at the American Institutes for Research shows that athletic departments of most public colleges and universities competing in NCAA Division I sports typically spend three to six times as much per athlete as their institutions spend to educate each of their students. The reports say median athletic spending for institutions that compete in the top tier Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, was $92,000 per athlete in 2010 while spending less than $14,000 per student on academics.
Not that UMass Lowell is there, but making this move almost always costs institutions (and the taxpayers that support them) more than they expect. In a recent NYTimes story Daniel Fulks, an accounting professor at Transylvania University who has spent the last 15 years as a research consultant for the NCAA said, “The reality is that football schools that move up a division almost always lose even more money. There’s not much defense of the economics in the short term or the long term.”
And the president of Tulane, Scott Cowen, expressed this caution: “What any school moving up in football should ask itself is this: what are the real costs of the benefits? You will get more visibility and exposure, and at first, that seems like a very good investment. The problem is that once you wade in for keeps at the F.B.S. level, you face facility improvements, escalating coaching salaries, added staff and more athletic scholarships. The cost curve is extremely steep, and unless you’re in a power conference, the revenue is flat.”
UMass Lowell’s Marty Meehan need look no further than UMass Amherst for one hell of a lesson. Amherst moved up to the FBS this season (see FBS spending per athlete above) and was so optimistic it signed a contract to play “home” games at Gillette Stadium. What did this bold move cost us?
According to the Times story, on Dec. 11, a UMass faculty committee delivered an interim report that maintained that UMass was now spending $8.2 million on football annually, including debt payments on a $34.5 million facility improvement. That total, the report said, is significantly higher than anticipated and more than twice what UMass spent on football before the F.B.S. transition.
All of this brings me to Noah Berger’s Globe op-ed outlining what the tax cuts of the late 90’s have cost Massachusetts.
Higher education down 31 percent: Tuition and fees have roughly doubled, making access to higher education harder for moderate-income families and limiting the state’s ability to build a high-wage economy propelled by well-educated workers.
Local aid down 45 percent: With less state support, cities and towns have been forced to cut back on local services or shift costs to the property tax. (Or both)
Public health down 25 percent: Budget cuts have threatened the ability of public health agency to perform its core activities or fund even its most successful efforts, e.g. teen anti-smoking programs. Early education and care down 28 percent: Research increasingly demonstrates that early education helps prepare kids to succeed in school and life. These cuts harm children and make it harder for low-income parents to work and support their families.
In the face of these disastrous budget cuts I, for one, do not want to see our state universities shelling out millions and millions to play with better teams and hope for the brass ring.