A Hidden Cost of Division I Sports

When those of us who wonder why we continue to have the development leagues for the NFL and NBA in colleges think of problems, we think of coaches paid more than any other employee, or donor money going into athletic facilities instead of helping the student body overall, or a mindset which makes most students spectators instead of participants. But there is another way that athletics can impact the rest of the school that is usually brushed off.  Here at CU, the administration has bought into the argument that to get the athletic program back in the upper echelons of Division I, much money must be spent on facilities.  But, having fallen on hard times in the past decade (buying out several football coaches, most of whom had far more losses than wins), the dollars are not pouring in.  So the administration basically loaned the money to the athletic department by allowing them to issue bonds on the university’s good name.  The official line is of course that this will be repaid down the road from TV revenue, increased attendance, etc. And maybe that is so (we can hope so). But what wasn’t obvious until recently was that the act of selling the bonds was going to crimp other work on campus. Daily Camera story notes that upgrades to the student union have been put on hold because the university has reached an uncomfortably high level of bonded debt. Now to be fair, the athletic facilities are only 10% of the total debt load of the university (urp, you cry, only 10%?), and there is a parking garage in that new facility.  But not only is the student union on hold, several other upgrades on campus are being held up as well (GG is lucky, being in one of the minority of buildings built in the past half century–just like the bulk of the athletic department, which is getting a newer building built right now). Did this enter the conversation when this debt was negotiated? Now periodically some parts of the university will need big bucks while other parts glide along with little capital expense (Geology, for instance, had a building in about 1950 and then finally got a new one near 2000), but it seems that athletics is a revolving door of ongoing expense (we just finished a major upgrade to the basketball and volleyball facilities, for instance, and you can bet there are plans drawn up somewhere for the next big upgrade after the current monster). Maybe it is time to simply cut lose the athletic department as a separate entity, let them issue bonds on their own good credit, and see what the market thinks of the long term prospects for getting repaid.  Somehow GG doesn’t think they will get nearly as good a rate as the university gives them….

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