EMU is the poster child for spending on college sports out of control on HBO Real Sports Ep 229: “College Costs”


Once again, EMU is is the poster child for out of control spending in sports, this time on the HBO show Real Sports in a story reported by a guy named John Frankel. Eastern comes out looking pretty bad, and in reality, I think the actual situation right now is even worse.

While the trailer suggests this is mainly about Eastern, the episode is at least as much (if not more) about Rutgers in New Jersey. They’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars right now in order to buy their way into contention in the Big Ten (which, logically, is now 14 universities). In the last 12 years (at least according to the guy they interview in the show), Rutgers has lost over $300 million on college sports. Making matters all the worse is Rutgers has spent a ton of money on coaches that they’ve had to fire and buy out. Though one thing Rutgers potentially has going for it is since they are the enormous flagship university for the state of New Jersey, they might be able to pay off a lot of that debt thanks to alumni and just being a part of the Big Ten.

And they also talk to the president of Paul Quinn College, Michael Sorrell, and how they gave up on football. I think Sorrell makes great arguments and I love the fact that they turned their football field into a small farm/enormous garden to grow food for campus, but given that Paul Quinn College has under 300 students, I think the comparison between it and Rutgers and EMU is pretty thin.

Those problems with this report aside, it does captures a lot of what is going on at EMU and what has been going on here for years. HBO interviewed EMU professor and EMU-AAUP former president/former treasurer (I’m actually not sure what his role in the union is right now) Howard Bunsis. According to Frankel (and I guess Howard), EMU has lost $52 million in athletics in the last two years. “For all the spending, Eastern Michigan has not had a winning football season in 20 years. It’s lone claim to fame? It draws the smallest attendance of any team in all of top tier division one football. Yet this year, the team outfitted the team in three different helmets and three different uniforms, and paid its coach more than anyone else on campus.”

They did an interview/feature of a student named Kelly Adams, someone they described as a “non-traditional student,” which is of course a pretty typical student at EMU. I’m not sure she added a lot to the discussion other than to put a name and a face with what I think is a pretty typical student at EMU.

And Frankel interviewed Interim President Donald Loppnow, and his answers were pretty, um, bad. Frankel asked about Ramone Williams, the EMU student who was in the news in late 2015/early 2016 because he was homeless, living more or less in campus buildings and in his car. Loppnow said something like “a lot of our students have difficult circumstances.” Then Frankel asked about the EMU Food Pantry that has opened up– I think just this last semester. It went like this:

“And how much funding does Eastern Michigan provide for the food pantry?”  Frankel asked.

“At this point it’s strictly through donations, but we’re looking at building it into ongoing service.” Loppnow said.

“So that’s zero.”

“I wish that we could do a lot lot more to address these needs.”

“But you’ve got the money, you’re just spending it in a place that isn’t helping those in need.”

“I understand what you’re saying” said a visibly uncomfortable Loppnow. “It’s part of the overall debate, and frankly, we will be funding these areas that you indicated.”

Mark Maynard has a good post here where he quotes from a long news story where EMU Regent Jim Stapleton claimed that the board was looking at “everything,” including football. The Freep has a story here with the predictable “not planning on cutting athletics but all option are on the table,” but at the same time maintaining the idea that participating in division one athletics is an “investment” by the university. MLive followed with a story of its own and the usual hater of all things EMU comments.

But here’s what all these stories are leaving out and why I’d argue this situation is even worse:

EMU is in the midst of a budget crisis. It’s been a rumor for a long time and was the subject of an email from none other than Interim President Loppnow earlier this week where he announced that there wouldn’t be across the board but “strategic” budget cuts across all units.

What the EMU administration hasn’t been talking about is this current budget crisis is essentially a self-inflicted wound. It’s not a result of cuts from the state– that funding I believe has been fairly stable or slightly rising for few years– but rather the result of everyone on the Board of Regents and in Welch Hall believing the unrealistic projections in terms of enrollment and tuition dollars that were being presented by President Susan Martin and Provost Kim Schatzel. Well, now these two– both of whom come out of business backgrounds, mind you– are long gone: Martin retired, and Schatzel wrapped up her term as provost/interim president in December and is now the president at Towson University in Maryland.

So, what we’re looking at here is a financial crisis that is the result of bad management by the university’s top leaders and negligent oversight by the board. Maybe this latest of many stories about money pit that is athletics at EMU will truly make the powers that be take a “hard look” at the football team and such. More likely, the new president and the BoR will double-down on football, and we’ll be cutting past bone in academics yet again in the name of looking at “everything” and making “strategic” cuts.

And do not even get me started on the DID crap! (Though I’ll be blogging about once the dust there has settled…)

Update:

There was a joint report issued by the EMU Faculty Senate, the EMU-AAUP, and EMU Student Government about the budget woes at EMU and the ridiculousness of EMU athletic spending. I uploaded it as a slideshare.net document here. Lots of charts and graphs, and the recommendation is EMU ought to get out of the MAC and join the Horizon league which doesn’t require us to be in football.

 

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