Campus Athletics Must Be Accountable for Spending

The 'Special' Council, Led By the Chancellor, Must Investigate With A Variety of Voices

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Intercollegiate athletics at UC Berkeley is required to be "self-supporting" according to campus rules that classify it as an auxiliary enterprise as set forth in the University of California Accounting Manual, Chapter A-783-1 [Sections II.A, II.C.5, III.A, III.B]. Yet every year this policy is violated.

Since 2003, this auxiliary enterprise has overspent its generated revenues each year by $7 million to $14 million. The campus continually covers these cost overruns at the expense of other programs.

Last year, for example, instead of living within its generated revenues of $59 million, Cal Athletics spent $73 million and then made up the difference by extracting $14 million from campus coffers. A similar amount is slated to be handed over to this auxiliary enterprise this year.

This problem is likely to become even more critical in the years to come because the Regents approved undertaking a half a billion dollar debt for the combined athletics center and football stadium construction project a debt that is supposed to be repaid from the revenues of Intercollegiate Athletics despite the fact that its generated revenues already fall short of expenditures by millions of dollars every year.

Given the unprecedented budget shortfall for the university, this drain is increasingly damaging to the campus academic mission. Just a sample of the myriad of cuts across campus this year are reduced course offerings that prevent students from graduating on time, closing of the libraries for nine consecutive days in March, reduced numbers of graduate student instructors to help in course sections and labs, staff layoffs, faculty and staff furloughs, staff psychologist layoffs as part of a $2 million cut at the student health center, removal of telephones from professors' offices, a virtual hiring freeze, reduced building maintenance, and much more.

In September, the Daily Cal reported that the Physical Education program, which provides health and fitness services to the 97 percent of students who are not Intercollegiate Athletes, lost 50 percent of its funds.

Last fall, with six of our colleagues representing a wide range of disciplines, we wrote a resolution which was passed by a large margin on November 5 at the largest Academic Senate faculty meeting in years.

The resolution asks the Chancellor to cease the annual bailouts and instead to make the academic program the campus's first priority. It also calls for a permanent oversight faculty committee to confirm that this auxiliary enterprise will live within its means.

UC Berkeley has a long-standing tradition of "shared governance" in which the faculty participates in running the university and setting its academic priorities. Given Berkeley's continual rating as the best public university in the nation, this approach has clearly served us well.

In its March 31 announcement that the Chancellor is establishing a "special" council to advise him on the campus's controversial financial support of intercollegiate athletics, Berkeley Public Affairs quoted the Chancellor's defiant statement, "There should be no doubt that we fully intend to provide IA with continued financial support." This promise flouts the faculty's clear position; furthermore, it violates the university's rules regarding auxiliary enterprises (such as athletics).

The council is "special" indeed, but primarily because it is virtually unilateral: Most of its faculty members are from the minority who opposed the resolution. The other appointees are influential alumni, all of whom are passionate supporters of Cal Athletics. Two of them even publicly mounted opposition to the faculty resolution.

Since the council's decisions will affect other programs, the skewed representation matters. A dollar spent on athletics is a dollar unavailable for the academic mission.

Solid peer-reviewed research has demonstrated that big-time athletics at academically top-ranked schools does not bring net financial benefits to the academic program, despite claims that this attracts more alumni donations to the campus.

Even the NCAA , whose very existence is predicated on the promotion of intercollegiate sports, could not show that increased spending on athletics increases alumni contributions; rather, it concluded that "data show no robust relationship between increased spending and alumni giving either to the sports program or to the university itself."

The NCAA President at the time, Myles Brand, stated, "For the college president and board, there is clear evidence that significant increases in athletics spending as the path to new revenue, better enrollment applications, more alumni giving or even more wins is far from a certain thing."

We want UC Berkeley to continue as one of the best universities in the world, to be accessible to people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and to educate Californians to become the future world leaders for generations to come.

One component of this multifaceted mission requires that we protect the core function of the university from continual and increasing financial raids to cover intercollegiate sports overspending, especially in view of the financial risk associated with the debt for the stadium project.

Given the critical importance of these deliberations, the Chancellor's "special" council should not resemble an athletics cheerleading squad, but be balanced with representatives of the majority faculty opinion and more diverse alumni perspectives.

Editor's Note: Alice Agogino, Jere Lipps, Margaretta Lovell, Laura Nader, Michael O'Hare and Loy Volkman also contributed to this piece.


Brian Barsky and Leslea Hlusko are both UC Berkeley professors. Reply to [email protected]

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