I would like to respond to your recent editorial ("UNI athletics need support," Sept. 13) on the University of Northern Iowa's proposal to lower general-fund support for UNI athletics. I disagree with your contention that the economic benefits generated by UNI athletics to the community justifies the amount of general fund support that UNI athletics receives. Why should taxpayers and students pay to support programs that boost local businesses? The fact that UNI athletics supports the local economy is not sufficient to warrant diverting some $4.2 million (and growing) every year away from the academic programs to support the athletic programs.
The editorial also recognizes that the university can benefit from the success of UNI's athletic programs. A recent study, however, suggests that universities realize very small increased enrollments and/or alumni contributions attributable to an athletic program on campus. The academic programs benefit very little, if at all, from the recent successes of UNI athletics. The royalties from increased online sales of UNI merchandise that you cite is nowhere near the $4.2 million per year that the athletic program receives. Although the success of UNI's athletic programs can be seen on the west side of Hudson Road, very few, if any, of these benefits find their way over to the east side of the street.
Spending on intercollegiate athletics has increased significantly across the country. University athletic programs build lavish new athletic facilities, hire large coaching staffs and find ways to pay winning head coaches outlandishly high salaries and bonuses. UNI has started down this path. Yet it is not necessary to have an expensive athletic program to be a high-quality university. There are many top-notch universities without a big-time athletic program. These universities earn their accolades by attracting the best professors, not the best coaches. The mission of any university is research and education, not entertainment.
Another issue is the shoddy way that the NCAA treats student-athletes. The NCAA (and athletic fans and supporters) find the lavish facilities, huge coaching staffs and high-paid coaches at universities perfectly acceptable, but they punish and even despise the student-athlete who dares to profit from his or her athletic efforts. What hypocrisy! Recently a student-athlete from the University of Georgia was suspended for three football games for selling one of his jerseys, even though the university routinely sells that same jersey to anyone willing to buy it. Intercollegiate athletics is big business, but the athletes who often risk serious injury are not allowed more than a tiny cut of the money they generate for the university. One prominent economist labeled the NCAA as the most "successful" monopoly in America, because it gets away with all of the abuses associated with monopoly power while convincing the public that it has the moral high ground to enforce its abuse of student-athletes.
The key issue with UNI athletics is who should shoulder the burden of the UNI athletic programs? There are only three possible sources to consider: taxpayers (state appropriations), students (student fees & tuition) or the local community (tickets purchased and contributions to athletic programs). A colleague of mine points out that the general funds that go to the UNI athletic program could reduce every student's tuition by well over $300 per year. Yes, the local community's support to build lavish new athletic facilities has been strong. Perhaps the local community could come up with the $4.2 million per year (increased by 3 percent per year) needed to maintain UNI's athletic programs. The fact that it doesn't says much more about the value of UNI's athletic programs to the local community than any editorial.
Editor's note: On Sept. 16, the State of Iowa Board of Regents approved a plan that will lower general fund support for athletics from about $4.5 million this year to $4.2 million by 2015. The plan will allow the university to retain Division I athletics.