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April 23, 2004

Athletics: A Bulls Eye For Cuts In California

FROM THE NOT SO GOLDEN ANYMORE STATE come several red bullet points of bad news regarding athletics funding of the state university system.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger inherited a state budget in shambles (that’s not a political statement, it’s a sad fact). So next year’s budget includes spending cuts of $6.8 billion (that’s with a “b”), and over half a billion (once again with a “b”) slashed from higher education — $220 million of that from the Cal State system.

The latest blow comes from the San Jose State Academic Senate. This week the senate voted to cut public funds in half for athletic programs. Although the vote is non-binding, it underscores the widening rift on many campuses over athletic funding and the value of intercollegiate athletics.

A long-time San Jose State donor said of the vote, “If they got rid of football, they would lose all of their donors. Not only for the athletic department, but for most of us major donors to the university.”

The struggling football team (only one winning season since 1993) is at the center of the budget cut bulls eye. The $3 million budget for the football team comprises most of the cut that the Faculty Senate is seeking.

A faculty member in favor of the cut said, “[The $3 million for football] is equal to 600 course sections. The whole library budget is $7 million, same as the department of athletics.”

San Jose State is hardly the only school suffering a budget crunch. Others include:

• San Francisco State’s funding for athletics has been rejected, leaving the program’s future in doubt.

• Long Beach State faces a deficit of a $500,000 next year.

• Humboldt State cut $226,000 from next year’s budget.

• San Diego State students voted down a proposal for an $80 per semester athletics fee.

The flare-up at San Jose State brings into focus once again the widely disparate viewpoints involved in the debate over college athletics.

One side—exemplified by the D1 mega-programs with budgets in the tens of millions, marquee coaches, intensive recruiting programs and mammoth football stadiums—makes the claim that athletics are essential to enhance the awareness, imagery, identity, reputation, pride and branding that are critical to attracting student applications and donor largesse.

Although the models for this scenario number in only the dozens, they are eminently noteworthy and conspicuous: Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia, UConn, Oregon, and so on.

Meanwhile, the athletics non-proliferation faction points to scandal after scandal, athlete entitlement, the farce of the term “student-athlete” and the spiraling arms race of spending as evidence of a system that has run amok. This side demands hard evidence of the benefits of intercollegiate athletics to an institutions’ academic mission.

Examples of this “sanity-in-athletics” approach include the Ivy League schools, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Bradley and Xavier.

And which side is winning the battle of opinions?

We’ll probably be asking that same question ten years from now.

(this 487 word excerpt—with supporting commentary—was distilled from a 984 word article in the Los Angeles Times of 4-23-04)