Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hey UNCG sports fans

North Carolina offers its residents some great sports bargains. This year NC fans could buy Carolina Panthers football season tickets for as little as $390, Charlotte Bobcats basketball season tickets for as little as $344, or Carolina Hurricanes hockey season tickets for as little as $516. Granted, these bargain prices only cover the teams' nose-bleed seats, but a bargain is a bargain--and nobody is forced to buy a pro sports ticket.

The same can't be said of NC's collegiate sports, including at my own institution, where students are offered quite a different bargain.

As part of the cost of attending the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, each full-time undergraduate and graduate student is compelled to pay an annual athletic fee of $622. For in-state undergrads, the mandatory athletic fee accounts for 10 percent of the total tuition and fees charged by UNCG. Students have no choice in the matter--if they want to pursue an education at UNCG, the $622 annual athletics charge is added to the price of admission.

UNCG's mandatory athletic fee has grown at a brisk clip of 7.1% per year over the last six years--a rate that's nearly four times the growth of inflation. The University has jacked up the fee despite a recession that has hurt students' ability to pay for college, even faster growth in tuition and other fees that have raised the cost of schooling, and crushing loads of student debt that leave graduates struggling to make ends meet long after they've left the campus.


The fee subsidizes boondoggles big (the men's basketball team moving from the on-campus Fleming Gym to the off-campus Greensboro Coliseum) and small (distribution of free tickets for a "faculty and staff appreciation day"). But these--outrageous though they are--are largely beside the point.

UNCG claims that these fees are an investment that will eventually "increase the proportion of the athletics budget funded by ticket sales, other revenues, and gifts by alumni and friends of UNCG" and enhance "the undergraduate experience."

However, students have gotten a poor return, as the "investment" has not paid off in any of the promised dimensions.
  • Not in terms of athletic revenues. In 2007-8, UNCG's net athletic sales and service revenues were $891,000. By 2011-2, net athletic sales and service revenues were actually lower at $882,000
  • Nor gifts. In 2007-8, UNCG received a total of $13.4 million in gifts; by 2012-3, gifts were down to $8.4 million.
  • Nor student enrollments. From Fall 2007 to Fall 2013, UNCG FTE student enrollments inched up a mere 1.9 percent. By way of contrast, FTE student enrollment across the UNC system rose 6.9 percent.
And the student share of support is going the wrong way. Currently, student fees pay for 82% (about five out of every six dollars) of UNCG's athletic spending. In 2007-8, students were only covering 78% (about three out of every four dollars) of athletic spending and paying for one additional Division I sport.

UNCG is now facing an acute and severe budget crisis brought on by missed enrollment targets and reductions (compounding years of earlier reductions) in state funding. Draconian cuts are being proposed across the University, including cuts on the order of 25 percent of the library's already slim acquisitions budget.

A high-priced athletics program is a luxury that neither the University nor its students can afford. It's long past time that students got a new bargain.

10 comments:

brummbaer2 said...

During the 2012-2013 season, the Spartan Spirit Shuttle Service averaged 265 students per game going to the Coliseum, less than 2% of student FTEs.

The "proceeds" of that season were -$137,218.40 of which UNCG was reckoned to owe 1/2 = $68,609.20, called the "Balance to Share." To this was added about $6,350 in incidental debts for a total of $74,859.21 in additional UNCG Atheletic Department debt owed the Colisuem. This is according to the Greensboro Coliseum Complex Event Settlelment. This document was obtained through the UNCG Legal Department and is undated. NO home game last season made money - none yet this year appears to have attracted enough fans to break even.

On 3/22/13 the Greensboro Coliseum Complex billed UNCG $115,355.00 for Season & Individual Tickets (sent to Tim George in the UNCG AD).
On 04/15/13 the GCC sent the UNCG Athletic Department a PAST DUE NOTICE for $32,622.50. This bill and notice were also provided by the UNCG Legal Department.

Dash said...

So, what's the solution. Stop athletics? Drop specific sports? Drop down to D2? Move back to Fleming?

Let's not pretend like any of the above wouldn' be a giant black eye to an atheltics department and a university struggling to shake the "commuter school" label. Like it or not, schools like UNCG (outside of the academic community) are very closely associated with their athletic departments.

The only way to fix this and not leave a big stain on the entire university is very, very simple. WIN. If the team playing in the coliseum starts to win games, other (more profitable options) will start to appear. Also the booster club might actually have some real money to contribute t the discussion.

Dave Ribar said...

Dash,

It's time to follow the courageous path laid out by Spelman's president, Beverly Daniel Tatum, and cut NCAA athletics at UNCG in their entirety.

As with Spelman, UNCG should turn the existing facilities over to wellness programs and intramural sports.

UNCG should and must honor its existing athletic scholarships but should stop admitting students on this basis.

Our crummy treatment of our paying customers--reduced class offerings and overcrowded classes--will cause a much bigger black eye down the road.

Dash said...

First off, I'll admit that I didn't expect any other answer. Ever since I was student at G almost 15 years ago, it was well known that the faculty wasn't thrilled about any money going to athletics. Honestly, it may be this way at every major university.

Bringing up Spelman is quite interesting though. UNCG and Spelman are at almost opposite ends of the spectrum as far as this entire discussion. Spelman eliminated it's ~ 1 million dollar athletics budget and cut its (I believe) 5 NCAA Division III programs. Their facilities were a complete wreck and needed an NCAA waiver just to play basketball because their court wasn't even regulation size. They were staring at major renovations just to continue competing. In the world of college athletics, they were already intramural programs. I wouldn't call her decision courageous. She just stated the obvious. They weren't really trying. So why bother?

But here's my real problem with that comparison. Spelman College is a prestigious, private, women only, HBCU, liberal arts school. It is a ridiculously selective school that barely takes a third of its applicants. That is their identity and has been for a very long time. The school didn't need athletics at all to promote itself.

By comparison, UNCG is a larger, state supported, coed university that really isn't very distinct from any of the other UNC system schools except for it's location. It doesn't have the history or tradition of Spelman. I love my Alma mater. However, UNCG (along with sister school UNCC) share that identity as a commuter school. UNCG is a university that needs to use all possible avenues to attract and retain talented students. Whether you believe it or not, there is a giant group of potential students that would immediately discard UNCG if it didn't offer athletics. It would make headlines nationally, though. It would be known as the school that instantly caused a quarter of it's students to transfer out of anger. So, at least it would have a new identity.

In the end, it doesn't matter. I assume the UNC system (which by the way could end all of this fee raising stuff any time they wanted just by telling G no) would immediately start removing anyone who brought this idea up.

So, now I throw the ball back into your court. Without throwing out a "pie in the sky" theory, is there a real way to fix this problem?

mckenzie1 said...

You academic types know how to follow the money- The UNCG minority population is 47%- Why is that the case? Is it because UNCG is a diverse liberal school- Heck no UNCG knows how to follow the financial aid path. At a recent basketball game two professors were talking-They said we have been told it is all about retention- No one flucks out- Again follow the money- Online education what a farce as far as security and quality of the degree
Academics is just as dirty as the sports departments- Everything has a price-- It all in the eyes of the beholder.

Dave Ribar said...

Dash,

UNCG students are already voting with their feet. FTE enrollment peaked in Fall 2009 when UNCG had 17,674 students. FTE enrollment is now 8% lower at 16,195.

Dash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dash said...

So, you would like to drop all sports due to an 8% drop in FTE enrollment? That seems like an, um ... extreme over reaction. And comparing UNCG to the UNC System as a whole really doesn't work. UNC and NCSU both have very low fees due to the large infusion of capital into athletics by booster clubs, merchandise sales, etc. Schools in the UNC system charge athleetics fees that span from the low $200's the mid $600's. Without having the numbers in front of me, I'd be interested to see how UNCG compared to other system schools of similar size a stature (UNCA, UNCW, WCU, ASU).
I think it's a bit of a reach to try to link these higher athletics fees to a drop in enrollment.

I think there are definitely ways to get some of these fees under control (which again would happen in the UNC board of governors just told UNCG no). Cutting down on support staff and setting up things in practical manner to actually turn a profit all make way more sense than throwing the baby out with the bath water.

But your point that FTE enrollment is dow due to these fees, seems to suggest that it will go back up if the fees go down. This very well MAY be the case. But you also seem to be suggesting that if the fees (and athletics) were dropped all together, FTE enrollment would go even higher. I can't say how strongly I disagree with you.

Dave Ribar said...

Dash:

Actually, I would "like" UNCG to have a successful sports program--if that program could be self-financing or if it appeared that the program delivered more benefits than costs. However, neither is the case.

I make the uncomfortable recommendation to eliminate the program based on the following:

1) It hasn't worked in any of the dimensions that it was supposed to (it's not boosting enrollments; it's not leading to more gifts; it's not leading to more ticket and sales revenue).

2) The student fees are VERY expensive and growing more so each year--nearly four times faster than the rate of inflation.

3) Far from becoming less dependent on student fees, the athletic program has become more dependent, even with the elimination of men's wrestling.

4) Those fees represent a significant burden to UNCG's students; it's irresponsible for UNCG to shoulder its students with debt unless the activity confers substantial benefits to those students.

5) Because of the reductions in enrollment and state funding, UNCG has no choice but to severely cut back its operations. It's not a matter of whether there will be painful cut-backs but rather where they will occur. UNCG has made repeated "horizontal" cuts, where percentages are taken from everything, no matter how worthwhile. The only way to maintain the other parts of the University is to make "vertical" cuts, where entire programs are cut.

The athletics program has been one of the least successful areas of the university. It is also the least essential to the University's core educational mission. Yet it is incredibly (and increasingly) costly.

If not athletics, what goes? And why?

Wade Maki said...

Dave,

Thanks for the informative posting detailing the cost of sports. This was news to me.