A loyal reader sent me a link to this op-ed piece in the New York Times by Joe Nocera, “Alabama Football Follies.” It’s about the move to do away with football at the University of Alabama at Birmingham followed by the outcry and the reinstatement of football. It’s of interest here since EMU is specifically mentioned as one of the poster children for spending too much money on athletics:
Schools in smaller conferences — Alabama-Birmingham is in Conference USA — have struggled to keep up, especially state schools whose budgets have been cut by their legislatures. (According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state spending per student in Alabama has declined over 36 percent since 2008.) USA Today does an annual ranking of university athletic department balance sheets, and you can clearly see this trend. Rutgers University had a $36 million deficit; the University of Connecticut, $27 million; the University of Massachusetts, $26 million; Eastern Michigan University, $25 million — and on the list goes.
But there is one other part of this story that is a bit of a silver-ish lining. The president who cancelled football at UAB, Ray Watts, insisted that the university would not pay more than $20 million for football and if the “various interests” in the community wanted more (and they wanted a lot more), they were going to have to find the money themselves. And they did: “By the end of May, the city’s corporate leaders had pledged to make up the additional $17.2 million subsidy, and had made a promising start on raising the $13 million or so needed for the practice facility.”
I agree with Nocera, that there are many better ways to spend the money than on football. But at least there was significant community “buy-in” to football at UAB. Could EMU’s football team come close to raising money like this?