Why Aren't Universities Doing More To Fund Athletics Through Voluntary Revenues?


UND Athletics Director Brian Faison announces cuts to the athletic department Tuesday afternoon at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

The University of North Dakota has been in statewide news a lot lately as they grapple with a big budget short fall.

Part of that is the State of North Dakota ordering allotments because of falling post-oil boom tax revenues, but former Governor Ed Schafer – who is serving as the interim president of the school until later this summer – says a bigger problem is that the school has just been spending too much money.

“A hundred times I’ve said the problem was not because we didn’t get the revenue, the problem was we spent too much money,” he told the Grand Forks Herald.

That’s like a breath of fresh air coming from a higher education leader, but I digress.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Why don’t these schools do more to support athletics through voluntary dollars from fans and donors?[/mks_pullquote]

Perhaps one of the biggest headlines to come out of UND’s budget reduction efforts was the axing of the men’s baseball and golf teams. That upset a lot of people, but as I pointed out earlier this week athletics in general are a major burden for both students and taxpayers.  According to figures collected and released by the NCAA, the athletics programs at UND received over $13 million in subsidies from student fees and general university dollars (read: tuition, taxpayer appropriations, etc).

In fact, revenues from things like ticket sales and concessions and merchandise and alumni/booster donations made up less than half – or about 44 percent – of the athletic department’s revenues.

So when this article from sports writer Tom Miller popped up, detailing an offer from an alumni to raise money for the baseball program which went unanswered by athletics director Brian Faison, it made me think.

Why don’t these schools do more to support athletics through voluntary dollars from fans and donors?

The Miller story isn’t particularly damning for Faison, I think. It sounds like the offer got lost in his email, and there’s no evidence that the alumni making the offer followed up. But the larger point is one worth talking about it.

If sports are so popular, and so important to students and the public, then why don’t people come forward and help pay for these programs voluntarily? So that they don’t represent a burden to the university, making the cost of attendance higher for students?

You’d think that would be something we could get wide agreement on giving the soaring costs of higher education for both taxpayers and students alike.

The State of North Dakota has been lavishly generous with the state’s universities over the last decade or so, but now that the state is in a post-oil boom financial situation things are changing.

It may be a good time to review the burden of these sports programs, and find new ways to fund them.