UMass faculty slam upgraded football program’s $8M price tag
University of Massachusetts quarterback Mike Wegzyn throws a pass against Buffalo on Saturday in Foxborough. Buffalo won 29-19. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — Getting the University of Massachusetts football program to the highest level of college football has more than doubled the amount of money the university spends on the program over the past two years.
An interim report from an ad hoc committee of the Faculty Senate shows that the university spent $8.22 million on the upgraded program this year, up from providing $3.16 million to football two years ago.
The report, presented at the Faculty Senate’s meeting Tuesday, prompted several representatives to urge eliminating this subsidy because cuts are already being suffered to academic programs.
“The bottom line is, this has jumped two and a half times in terms of institutional support,” said Max Page, a co-chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) Football, and a leading critic of the decision to elevate the program.
Page said the report gives solid ground for a robust debate on the merits of trying to become a top tier program, noting his opinion is that this is a risky and costly endeavor.
“People can decide whether it is worth it or not,” Page said.
But an effort to allow a vote on an article that would have called on the university administration to consider reversing its earlier decision to elevate the program failed when a two-thirds majority was not obtained to suspend the rules of the body. The suspension of rules was necessary because the rules committee had earlier decided against presenting such an article to the Faculty Senate.
Even without a vote, faculty displeasure with former Chancellor Robert Holub, who made the call to move the football team to a higher level, was evident.
Dan Clawson, a professor of sociology, said the more than $8 million in support for the team could be used to advance education on campus, possibly by relieving student debt and providing needed money for departments.
“The decision was made by Chancellor Holub in his waning days,” Clawson said. “The rest of us will be living with this decision long after he’s gone.”
Audrey Altstadt, a professor of history, described shrinking budgets that have eliminated phones in the department’s offices, reduced teaching assistants and not given her the chance to enroll more history graduate students.
“I can’t get $20,000 for a (teaching assistant), but we have millions for football. I can’t expand the graduate program, but we have millions for football,” Altstadt said.
The Minutemen began playing in the Mid American Conference this season, with the team struggling to a 1-11 record and attendance at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough falling below expectations.
The report calculated institutional support for the program and other related costs in the current budget year against two years ago, when the Minutemen were playing in the Football Championship Subdivision.
In its analysis, the committee only focused on expenses and revenues. Page said that in the spring the committee is expected to have cost benefits of more intangibles, such as how wins and losses affect the reputation of UMass among alumni and students, and the value of playing home games at Gillette.
While there was always an awareness that the higher level program would be more costly, Page said the numbers are much higher than initially thought. In fiscal 2011, when the program was run on a $4.38 million budget, projections showed this would rise to $5.43 million and then to $6.47 million this year. But actual budgets have exceeded projections, with last year’s budget at $5.98 million and this year’s at $7.16 million.
Page said that with performance and attendance below expectations, a deficit of $715,068 was reported by the athletic department.
Other costs factored in to get over $8 million include the required so-called gender equality scholarships as part of offering more football scholarships, at $260,105; marketing on the program, at $700,000; and the $2.07 million in debt payments for a $34.5 million project to improve McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
Ernest May, secretary of the Faculty Senate, said the rules committee opted against allowing a motion on the article because the ad hoc committee has produced only an interim report and more study needs to be done. The committee, for instance, needs to determine how the university could withdraw from its conference and how much the football program is draining education.
English professor Joseph Bartolomeo, a member of the rules committee, said a full consideration of alternatives should be on the table, not just getting out as abruptly as it got in.
“We want the discussion to continue in the most accurate and informed way possible,” Bartolomeo said.
M.J. Peterson, a professor of political science, said the ad hoc committee should show different courses of action that can be taken, the estimated costs of getting out and what impact this might have on other sports.
But Page said with construction on expanding McGuirk Alumni Stadium looming in the spring, now is the time to act.
“Let’s not throw good money after bad. We have a moment here to reverse course and decide we’re going to do something else with the money,” Page said.
Other faculty, like Richard Bogartz, a professor of psychology, said famous universities do without the sport and its violence.
“It’s not so easy to see the brains that get bounced around in the skulls,” Bogartz said.
Student Government Association president Ashkay Kappor said considering eliminating football would be a disservice to the student body.
“That’s what I keep stressing, that you can’t really put a price on school pride,” Kapoor said.
May agreed that none of the discussion centered on feelings of students or alumni, which the ad hoc committee should focus on at some point.
“The alumni are key in the football decision,” May said.
But he said in some ways they’ve already been heard. “They voted with their feet and their silence was deafening,” May said.