The Last Minute: Monthly Maroon & White Column
Today's quiz: What do the following athletic programs have in common with UMass? Penn State, Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado, Rutgers, UConn and California - Santa Barbara. The answer? Well, not much. The Athletic Department took another zinger from the Boston Globe and subsequently on campus after the release of Aaron Lazare's report on the state of the Amherst campus. I do not believe it was Lazare's intent to place the athletic department in a bad light. Nonetheless, he was very successful in doing just that. Lazare, Chancellor of the UMass Medical Center in Worcester, took the list of the above schools and made a series of comparisons. Athletics was not by any means the focal point of the report, but there was a section comparing the amount of institutional support given to athletics on each campus. According to the numbers provided (the athletic department was never interviewed and we are not sure exactly what those numbers include), UMass is receiving more athletic support per student than the so-called peer group, a statistic that immediately raised the ire of the Faculty Senate. Now I suppose if these schools were really our peer group, maybe somebody should be upset. But let me tell you folks, these schools may be peer institutions academically, but as athletic programs, we are not even close. We can only hope that someday we are able to call these schools peers (yes, even Rutgers).
It is interesting that this controversy has erupted over athletics and ignored most other areas of the report. If you want to look at comparisons, why not mention that UMass pales in comparison to the peer schools in areas such as endowment and research library holdings? But since athletics has been targeted, lets take a look at it. Anyone with a basic knowledge of college athletics would recognize immediately that one of the schools on the peer list doesn't belong. That would be Cal - Santa Barbara, which is not a flagship school, has no football program and operates a $4 million athletic budget. Not coincidentally, it is also the school with the least amount of name recognition. So I'm going to take the liberty of throwing the Cal - Santa Barbara Gauchos out of the discussion. What of the remaining six? Well, like UMass, they all have football programs. Unlike UMass, they all have Division I-A football programs, meaning they are competing at the highest level of college football. Taking it a step further, these schools are not just Division I-A schools, they are members of conferences that compete in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which produces massive postseason bowl and television revenues, to say nothing of substantial ticket revenues. While UConn is not yet a member of the Big East Football Conference, it is a member of the Big East in all other sports and benefits from that affiliation with a I-A BCS league through higher television rights and TV appearances in football that a team ranked 117th in the country (out of 117) in the preseason would not possibly warrant if it were just another member of the have-nots.
Because of the enormous revenues these programs enjoy, it is only natural that they would require less in the way of institutional support than a UMass program would. The only sport we have that generates positive dollars is the men's basketball program, and even that was in the red last year. Without I-A football, the Atlantic 10 Conference does not have the same leverage when it comes to negotiating television rights for basketball. While all of the BCS Conferences have multi-million dollar basketball contracts to go with their even larger football contracts (usually 3-5 times greater than basketball), Atlantic 10 basketball generates TV revenue of less than a million dollars annually. As we have pointed out repeatedly in this column, Atlantic 10 football not only doesn't receive television rights fees, the league must pay to get on the air.
So realistically, what are we really talking about? In comparison to the football playing group, we are at the top in the number of sports sponsored and operate with the smallest budget. Our budget of $18 million for 2001-02 is $10-27 million less than every other one of our "peers." It is a bit of stretch to believe that we should be comparing our athletic department with schools like the University of Nebraska, which has the fifth-largest athletic budget in the country, plays each home football game before 75,000 people, and is a member of a conference that receives some $20 million in bowl money each year and has a television contract of over $20 million per year.
Beside the revenue limitations we face as a Division I-AA member competing in the Atlantic 10, there is also the matter of what this department has been asked to do by the University. Over the last 10 years we have been asked to re-instate or add seven sports (women's lacrosse, women's rowing, women's volleyball, women's tennis, men's ice hockey, men's soccer, men's tennis). We have also helped the University carry out its objective of being recognized as a national leader in Title IX compliance for women's sports. All of these things have required additional resources while providing few opportunities for additional revenue. With 29 sports we are one of the nation's largest athletic programs. We are trying to successfully run a broad-based program, supporting a similar number of sports to the Big Ten or the Ivy League. Yet we have neither the Big Ten's football resources nor the Ivy League's sizeable endowments.
Without I-A football, institutional support is our life blood. As long as we are a Division I AA program, we will never have access to the revenue streams that these so-called peer schools have. We would have absolutely no chance of achieving the level of success that we have without significant institutional support, support that we greatly appreciate through the efforts of the Chancellor, the President, the Trustees and the legislature. But there is no doubt that this athletic program, based on its academic and athletic achievement, has been a very good investment for the University and the Commonwealth. Year in and year out, we have led the Atlantic 10 in all-academic honorees. Even when competing with Division I-A Virginia Tech (before it left for the Big East), we were able to win the Atlantic 10 Commissioner's Cup as the league's top overall athletic program on a regular basis. The success of the men's basketball program in the '90s, the I-AA national championship in football, and the College World Series appearances by softball are the most visible examples of the tremendous exposure this athletic department has generated for the University. The television appearances and print media exposure would be worth millions upon millions of dollars if the University had to pay for it. What Chancellor Lazare's report really points out is that major universities have major college football programs. It is not that the University is spending too much money on athletics. The real point is that those universities that have made the investment in Division I-A football are able to generate the kind of revenues that allow their athletic programs to be more self-sufficient. Unless we level the playing field, it is ridiculous for anyone to be comparing our athletic program to the schools on that peer list.
Comparing UMass and its "Peers" in Athletics