“Fiscal study: Michigan athletics are self-reliant; MSU is close”

I meant to post this the other day but it got lost in my in-box:  a loyal reader sent “Fiscal study: Michigan athletics are self-reliant; MSU is close,” from the Freep.com web site.  It’s not surprising news, really.  The University of Michigan makes about $10 million a year from its athletic program, which puts it in the same league as places like Ohio State, Texas, Florida, and Alabama for making money off of athletics.  Michigan State is basically a break-even proposition.  But that’s about it, and all of the other state of Michigan schools– including EMU, of course– lose a ton of money.

Nothing particularly new, though here’s a fun fact:  as I understand the article, no Big Ten athletic program received more than 10% in its revenues from university subsides.  In other words, EMU (and I would wager to say the same is true for all of the MAC programs) spends significantly more on sports than Big Ten universities, both as a percentage and in real dollars.

34 responses to ““Fiscal study: Michigan athletics are self-reliant; MSU is close”

  1. Of all football conferences, the MAC is about the most heavily dependent on athletics subsidies (money taken from a university’s non athletic revenue to support athletics). And of the MAC schools, none pay for such a high percentage of athletic costs as EMU — it’s about 82%, I believe.

    And in the whole USA, almost no schools spend as much money, in absolute dollars, on athletic subsidies as EMU. About twenty three million.

    The athletic programs at UofM and MSU exist in a different universe than EMU’s, even if delusional thinking often results in EMU officials comparing our Division 1 status to that other school a wee bit west of here.

    Did you see the proposal floated from some of the top dog figures in Division 1 that the poorer schools should be cut from Div 1?

  2. Mark,

    I think the Division 1 big dogs have the right idea. EMU’s football program (can’t speak to basketball, nobody really talks about it) has been a troubling waste of scarce resources for decades, not to mention a source of shame. I won’t name names, but there are people who have been in the upper echelon of EMU’s administration and even in the Foundation and BOR who have been behind this scandalous mortgaging of the University’s future for illusory personal status enhancement. The numbers you quote are all the more embarrassing. Perhaps Sue Martin will find the guts to put and end to this sick fantasy, once and for all. If this is the cost to remain in the MAC, then it’s high time to cut the cord.

  3. The “delusional thinking” is to even think football will be cut! Right or wrong, good or bad, it’s not going away so we all have to deal with it.

  4. Here is the link of the raw data from USA Today:

    I agree football is not going away. Here is a link to another article that states that a successful football team could be a good thing for at least one Olympic-NCAA sport:

    I think that EMU spends a lot on athletics but athletes do bring many benefits to the university (specifically sports that are usually dropped by universities to “save” money). Many sports bring walk-ons that pay out of state tuition, EMU athletes average a 3.162 GPA, and most sports require athletes to live in the dorms for at least one year. All of this brings in money to the university.

    • Clarie,
      Your comment has good points, but it seems to suggest that somehow EMU athletics produces net revenue for the University, and that is untrue. Untrue by about $23 million a year. Imagine what the marginal costs of that are. Imagine we put that much into recruiting with full scholarships the top 2% of Michigan’s high school grads, by GPA, or supporting, say, nursing students (a field of critical public importance).

      I have seen no data that suggest that academically high achieving walk-on athletes at EMU would not come here, or not be academically high achieving, if there was no Div 1 sport for them to walk on and play for. (I have asked for that data, and athletics department officials say they have none.) Nor do these high GPA teams cost much: Football and both basketball teams are the big money losers.

      For the sake of being at the bottom of Division 1 football rankings for 40 years, we impose a rather high “football tax” on EMU students, thus driving the costs of attending EMU up for everyone. This can be changed. Choices are choices, not requirements of God! The costs of remaining in Div 1 are increasingly high, and our ability to pay those costs is diminishing fast.

      Thank you, Clare, for posting the link to the USAToday data.

      • Mark, it appears that the University spends more than $1,000 per student each year on the football program. Want to make a degree at EMU affordable? Dump this waste-of-money MAC pipe dream. Our students can compete with perfectly-good schools in track and field and other sports outside the MAC. For the handful of students who are at college for a professional sports career, there are other schools. What to do with that horrible football “stadium?” A shrine to stupidity, perhaps?

        • Curious,

          Good points. Sunken costs are not a good reason to pour more money after bad.

        • It’s too bad our regents don’t have the courage to publicly weigh in on this issue. How can they continually support this outrageous waste of resources during these times when state funding is decreasing thus placing the burden on students to subsidize this unneeded luxury called football?

      • Well, I don’t have walk-on data. However, I came to EMU for the swim team. I was a walk-on from Missouri. I came to EMU for their program in teaching students with hearing impairments. I also swam. I would not have come to EMU if there wasn’t a swim team. Also, I really liked the fact that I was able to swim Division 1 and in the MAC. I graduated with a 3.8 GPA. I know some more walk-ons like me.

  5. I’m not against athletics per se. I agree that it is a good outlet for students and could help bring the university together. Some of our teams are quite good. It seems that trying to compete in Division 1 is our real problem.

    Football is very expensive and seems to carry major risks for its participants. You might be able to argue that the pros are compensated for those risks but students at a much lower tier school like this, much less so.

  6. The EMU football team has never ended a season ranked in any major poll, and is among the worst Division I FBS schools both in all-time win percentage.

    No one expects EMU to be a “leader” in football, which has been well documented:


  7. Took a real genius to do that study! But after they’re all experts at the U.

  8. I just counted how many development staff are employed by Athletics at U of M – 24. We employ 2 through the Foundation. Our main athletic fund raiser is the wife of Al Borges, offensive coordinator at U of M. He makes $650 K. The defensive coodinator makes $750K. Gotta employ alot of fundraisers to pay those salaries.

    • Alum: Am I reading you right? EMU employes the wife of a U of M sports official, their offensive coordinator, and this wife is the main EMU athletic fund raiser? Divided loyalties! Does she have any EMU connection, or prior fund raising experience before EMU?

  9. This is of course old news, but my own take on this is that the whole system that is college football is broken and really needs to be rethought. I like football just fine and I’m even okay with the idea of changing the safety rules of the game to do everything possible to minimize risks to players. That might turn college (and high school and pro) football into a sort of glorified version of flag football, though that might actually make for a more “athletic” sport anyway.

    And when it comes to the money we’re spending on it, especially in the economic times we find ourselves in, it’s pretty ridiculous. Imagine how we could use that $1000 per student. There’s the obvious of use of holding down tuition costs, but we could also use those funds to offer scholarships based on excellence and/or need, we could use it to fund the library, we could justify !% more for faculty/lecturer/part-time salaries, we could pay staff better, etc., etc., etc.

    I guess what I’m saying is if football is a break-even proposition or even if it costs us the equivalent of $100 a student (give or take), fine. But $1000 a student? That’s a pretty shocking way of thinking about it.

  10. It is beyond belief that someone would actually state and be backed up by members of the faculty that the university spends $1000 per student each year on the football program. I chose to spend my money on a university that could offer a quality affordable education (where I earned my Master’s) and had a Division 1 sports program (most notably football). The debate about such fiscal irresponsibility seems crazy given what value the EMU education is compared to other state schools. There are more people like me. Remove division 1 sports from Eastern and its status as a University will dip to that of SVSU and Ferris. Did anyone notice that EMU is on the cusp of making a bowl game? Site all the statistics you want but perception is reality and that is what is in the public’s (potential consumers) mind.

    • As far as the $1,000 figure is concerned, it’s called, “arithmetic.” The figure is closer to $1,100. You are likely in a tiny minority of people who don’t mind being forced each term to pay good money for something that has no affect on your academic or professional life. Looking for a job? Your potential employer will be looking at your transcript, not at how many, many football losses your school’s team suffered last year. The people in the sparsely-filled stadium were handed free tickets. How’s that for school spirit? If you want high-level college football, drive a dozen miles west to Ann Arbor. And be prepared to pay through the nose for that privilege.

    • EMU being on the cusp of a bowl game is anywhere between frivolous at best and at worst a check against. A bowl game would like suck more money out of us. Plus, it would do very little for school spirit if EMU and some other unheard of were playing in some derelict bowl that no one watches, like the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” Bowl.

  11. Hey curious,

    Your snarky comment is neither warranted or appreciated. Please show me where the EMU football budget is 25 million per year. I would burn in hell rather than grace the sidelines of the school to the west as I have found that their attitude and arrogance mimics yours. So site your source or be happy with your ignorance!

    • Carterman:
      Claire cites the raw data in her post towards the top of the page. It’s not football-only, but provides the expenses and revenues for the athletic department as a whole. The bottom line is that ~$21.2 million from University funds (which I would guess is mostly “real” money collected from tuition dollars, followed distantly by “fake” money from the University paying itself for the athletic scholarships) and ~$1.57 million directly from student fees were spent on athletics at EMU in 2011. Divide through by the number of students and you get a figure of around $1000 per student spent by the University on athletics. I’m not taking a stance here on whether or not that’s a good or a bad thing, but those are the facts.

    • “Eastern Michigan, which had $27,717,621 in revenue and $25,971,066 in spending, received $22,764,471 in subsidies (82.1%).” It’s from the article which started this thread.

  12. I am aware that the $1000 per student figure is based upon the simple division of students to the overall athletic budget but that the point I was trying to make to CURIOUS. He was referring to the football program with those numbers. Funny how that always become the debate. Somehow the other 19 sports at EMU become exempt. I graduated from the college of business. My education was not added to or influenced by the new teaching dome or the entire new Science building at all but somehow I figure I paid some for it. The debate really should be what in the end we aspire to be at Eastern. Let’s keep kicking the football team. They are there for the entire community to appreciate and take part in adding to the overall student experience. So is the Library, Student Union, IM buildings, student organizations and many other activities that are funded in part by the general fund but are not utilized by the majority of the student body. The way this debate has transpired ends with us back to being the “Normalites” again with one building and a singular education major.

    • I suppose we could figure out specifically how much football costs versus these other sports, but I think you’re missing the basic point here, Carterman: is it worth it for EMU to spend that much money on football in particular and maybe even athletics in general. I think the answer is generally no, especially at a time when higher education is being pressured from all quarters to make an education more affordable.

      I mean, one obvious way to make higher ed more affordable is to cut out some of the unnecessary expenses, and high on that list at EMU (and most universities) is sports. I would add to that list spending too much money on facilities designed to make colleges more “resort” or “shopping mall” -like, such as super-plush dorms, state of the art workout facilities, and elaborate student centers. Though frankly, we don’t have much in the way of super-plush dorms, workout facilities are kind of crappy, and I think our student center (along with a previous big expense, the convocation center) more or less pays for itself from renting out space and the like. But I digress.

      You might not have used the library or the science center or the remodeled Pray-Harrold or what-have-you as part of your specific educational experiences, Carterman, but all of those infrastructure improvements to EMU are vastly more useful and valuable to the educational mission of the institution. Lots and lots of great colleges and universities have no football and/or not much emphasis in sports and instead emphasize, you know, education. And while I will agree that maybe football and the like plays a significant part in the “student life” at a place like U of M or MSU, the only people who come to EMU because of its football program are football players.

      Personally, I’d like to see the kind of athletic system that takes place in pretty much the rest of the world and at places like EMU for sports that aren’t on scholarship: club teams. But that too is perhaps a different topic.

  13. Hey Carterman,
    Your passionate defense of EMU football is sincere, no doubt, but as for the costs of football, it’s by far the most expensive sport EMU, or other schools, field. The basketball teams are the next most expensive. And much of the other teams’ costs are truly incurred in order to continue EMU’s “investment” in football. Why? Title IX’s requirement of gender equity; the all male football team requires a lot of other teams with women. Hence what’s called “roster management,” in which women are recruiting for, say, crew, and a very large team is maintained even though many teammates aren’t ever in competition. The NCAA permits this trickery. And football has more “hidden” costs than other teams. At OSU, the Student Affairs division had full time employees whose sole job was to take care of football uniforms, but that expense was NOT billed to athletics. So too are much of EMU’s actual athletic costs aren’t billed to athletics. So, it’s not a great exaggeration to say most of our $23 million subsidy to athletics is for football.

    Football is a great game, but very expensive — and our society most values the football teams that can survive in the “free market” without extracting hugh subsidies from college students!

    When surveyed, high school students who have an interest in attending EMU almost never give athletics or football specifically as a reason they are interested in EMU. Football, in a word, has close to zero positive public appeal for EMU — and frequently EMU football brings ridicule on to EMU and EMU alumni. EMU’s attempt, for 40 years, to become a serious football school, has cost hundreds of millions of dollars and contributed nothing that can be demonstrated with facts to the school’s reputation or funding sources.

    By the way — EMU has no “education” major though we do have a number of majors with our College of Education — as well as scores of other majors around the campus. Contrary to your fear that without football we’d only have one major.

    All the best to you! MH

  14. Higbee,
    As a brother of two sisters one who graduated with a degree in”secondary education” and one with a “elementary education” major, I am well aware of the academic offerings of the university. I am not privy to the archives to know what academic programs were offered in the early 20th century of which I was referring. So often I hear terms such as “free market” thrown around by academics especially in regards to programs they do not endorse, I find this comical. I remember looking at my undergraduate curriculum and wondering why I would have to pay for all these unecessary classes that did not pertain to my major. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that I did. However, my parents even questioned the virtues of some of my electives and liberal arts requirements. I also am well acquainted with Title 9 but for the purposes of our discussion I will leave it alone.
    What could we do with the money if the English department were reduced to teaching Comp 1 and 2. History curriculum reduced to U.S. history and International History. The point is if we were to turn to the free market to support our university essentially we would become a career college. and without the unions obviously!

    • Carterman,

      I am glad you have advanced in your education beyond thinking college courses are merely career related. At elite colleges, where graduates take top dollar jobs upon graduation, majors like history and English are very popular, because they can teach what employers value: the ability to think critically and communicate well in writing and orally.

      And all academic majors at EMU meet their own expenses from the tuition students are charged for their courses. Football does not come close to meeting its own expenses. So, if decided on any true market basis, all our majors would continue, but football would be gone gone GONE! Football is the #1 reason EMU students aren’t being given a tuition reduction.

  15. There are a small % of people who will defend the football team regardless of the facts given…so no use trying to convince folks like Carterman. Hopefully, the majority have a clearer understanding that athletics – mostly football – is an enormous drain of financial resources that could instead be used toward the academic mission or used to lower student costs.

  16. I am sure that I will be under attack but the average compensation of professors at EMU is on average more than $30K more than their counterparts at the state’s private universities. (Adrian, Albion, Olivet….) These are institutions that are dedicated to education ( and arguably have a better reputation than Eastern) and have no scholarship athletics. Sacrifice the 30K and I will Sacrifice Football! What could we do for our beloved institution with that kind of money per student?

  17. Carterman,

    Oh, not an attack. Some of the private schools you mention do pay their faculty a little less than Eastern does. Some are close to parity.
    Here are the average salaries of the public schools. The highest salaries paid to Full Professors seem in most cases to be in your own chosen subject area, or in the various professional schools.

    Perhaps the central question is whether we want to graduate people who will benefit society, in which case the sports program is a good candidate to be cut loose. On the other hand, we can spend tens of millions of dollars each and every year on the bread and circuses that distract our students from getting their degree and moving on. I don’t see that as a very difficult choice. Oh, I had forgotten to mention that to retain the best professors, you have to pay them the going rate. In that case, EMU is a bargain when compared to U of M, MSU, UM-Dearborn, WSU, WMU, MTU, CMU, Oakland, and UM-Flint, where the Full Professors are all paid more than they are at EMU. In every classification, apart from Instructors, EMU comes in below the State averages. If EMU were to discontinue its football program, my guess is that very few people would notice.

    • One thing that is completely indisputable and easily proved with all kinds of statistics and data is the rising cost of higher education has zero to do with pay to faculty, instructors, and part-timers. If you want to blame an entity other than athletics, blame the bloated levels of administration and their steadily rising salaries.

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