Athletics generates $14.7 million in expenses, and officials attribute raises in those costs to high price of sports medicine and travel.

Ohio University’s top athletics officials got the money they asked for this year — a $125,000 increase to the program’s General Fee budget, which they receive yearly through students’ General Fee payments.

However, officials do not think this increase will be enough to compensate for rising costs beyond their control, such as medical expenses, cost of travel and fees from championship participation.

“Every year you don’t get a cost of living adjustment, you’re taking a cut, and we haven’t been able to grow our budget that much,” said Amy Dean, executive senior associate athletic director.

Intercollegiate Athletics operates on $14.7 million budget of expenses, which it makes up with $6.5 million in revenue and $9.3 million from the General Fee.

Each in-state, full-time student at OU’s Athens campus pays $1,256 to the General Fee, money that goes to a number of non-academic divisions at OU.

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Increases to the General Fee allocation

Every year, divisions that receive money from the General Fee can request additional funding in the General Fee Committee, an organization of students and administrators that decide the upcoming year’s General Fee allocation.

For this academic year, that committee decided to award Athletics $75,000 to compensate for rising medical costs, and $50,000 to cover rising travel costs.

Dean said this is the first time Ohio Athletics received an adjustment for rises in cost of travel expenses.

Athletics has a $2.1 million budget for travel and expenses, which took about a $14,000 dip from the previous year, but increased in total by almost $350,000 since the 2010-11 academic year. Tim Knavel, associate athletic director, attributed that difference to rising costs to travel and a university policy change that required the department to include the Athletics Foundation, or the fundraising arm of Athletics, into its budget starting in the 2013-14 academic year.  

The department spent nearly $500,000 on medical expenditures so far this year, and Knavel said it could use more money to go to medical costs such as athlete surgeries and check-ups.

Knavel presented the need to add another $125,000 to cover medical expenses starting in 2015-16 at a General Fee Committee meeting in April. The General Fee Committee has not yet released its recommendations for 2015-16.

Saving up for medical expenses

Ohio Athletics managed to increase its self-generated revenue by about 30 percent since the 2010-11 academic year. Its expenses have increased by about 26 percent in the same time period.

In the 2014-15 academic year, the department collected $9.3 million from students’ General Fee payments, which can cover about 63 percent of the department’s $14.7 million in expenses.

If the department ends the year with more money than expenses, its leftovers go into a reserve Athletics’ top staff can use in the future to cushion certain expenses in the budget, Knavel said.

“It’s kind of new that we’ve had an excess the last couple years, so we’re trying to build that reserve,” Knavel said.

Athletics ended last year with about $135,000 to put in its reserve, but the department currently has $38,870 in this fund, Knavel said.

Those reserved funds will likely go toward medical expenses and other rising costs that Athletics can’t control, Stephens said.

Funding scholarships for athletes

The $6,651,689 in scholarships that OU distributes to athletes is paid for through OU’s general scholarship fund, which is partially fed by student tuition.

So students end up paying tuition money for Athletics’ scholarships apart from the General Fee money that they already pay into Athletics’ budget.

Faculty Senate Chair Beth Quitslund said she sees the value Intercollegiate Athletics brings to the campus, but she is concerned about the way academic colleges are taxed based on athletic scholarships’ presence in the general fund.

Academic colleges are taxed by the number of students enrolled in each college, rather than the number of students on scholarship in each college, so Athletics’ scholarships could skew the rate at which schools have to pay, Quitslund said.

“It’s difficult to see what decision the (Intercollegiate Athletics) could have made, beside offering those increased scholarships, given their mission to recruit competitive student athletes, but, from an institutional position and from the position of higher education as a whole, it’s troubling that the scholarships are higher for athletics than they are for other kinds of students,” Quitslund said.

Faculty Senate decided at its meeting in April that the body will endorse federal legislation that would create a committee to oversee intercollegiate athletics throughout the nation, including athletics departments’ financing.

Though Dean and Knavel present Athletics’ budget to Faculty Senate every year, Steve Hays, an assistant professor of Classics and World Religion, said he does not believe students realize how much they pay into Athletics each year.

“I believe the university has made a choice to keep (the budget) deliberately obscure,” Hays said. “They don’t want students to know how much it costs.”

Graduate Student Senate passed a resolution asking for graduate students to have the ability to opt out of paying a portion of the General Fee if they did not plan to attend sporting events. President Roderick McDavis did not approve this idea, said GSS President Carl Edward Smith III at a meeting Monday.

He created a website called OU Dialogues where he hopes to start conversations about OU’s participation in NCAA Division I Athletics, which he considers the primary cause of high costs to the university and its students.

“It’s just gone out of control,” Hays said. “Individual schools and presidents are terrified of dealing with the problem, even though they know, I think, the amount of money is insane. It’s the third rail of education politics: if they touch it, they die.”

Rather than divorce NCAA altogether, Hays said he would like to see administrators, faculty and students discuss dropping OU’s ranking to Division III Athletics so the university could invest money that would be spent maintaining Division I status in other places.

“Somebody’s going to be the first ordinary state university to say the emperor has no clothes,” Hays said. “We shouldn’t be followers. We’re a university. We’re supposed to see what’s out there, what are the possibilities.”