Dr. Richard Fulton: Athletics and education in Missouri
These are hard times for education in America. Colleges and universities are increasingly strapped for cash and tuition goes up as a result. Salaries have been largely flat for those who teach and support staffs in Missouri’s education system.
The exception to hard times in education? Athletics. Take, for instance, the athletics program at the University of Missouri. You may have seen the feature story on the university’s football coach, Gary Pinkel, on the front page of USA Today’s sports section a week ago. It chronicles the spectacular rise of the university’s program — not so much in success as in cost since success goes up and down but the costs are going only spectacularly up.
Ironically, on the same day, the St. Joseph newspaper had an article on a talk by Paul Wagner, deputy commissioner of the Missouri Department of Higher Education, warning of shortfalls in next year’s budgets for public higher education institutions: a $52 million shortfall.
In contrast, the Missouri article notes that the football budget has nearly doubled since 2004. Not a small part of that has been the 131 percent increase in the guaranteed salary of coach Pinkel from 2006-2009. Salary increases for the professors at Missouri during this period were 8 percent. Indeed, since 2000 when Pinkel was hired his salary has gone up over 400 percent. And that doesn’t count the up to $850,000 bonuses available to the coach. How about you, oh taxpayer of Missouri, how much has your salary gone up in that time period?
I know the arguments for this explosion of costs. First and foremost, it is said that the football program brings in money and helps pay for the other sports programs at the university. And this is true. It is estimated that the Missouri athletic budget will be balanced in 2010 on the back of football and basketball. I accept this point.
The question is who should benefit from profits from the sports program? Evidently the university does not make any money from the athletics budget even though it is the university that gives the athletics program its purpose and its support base. The answer seems to be that the coaches are the main beneficiaries of the system. Certainly not the players of the game, they get kicked in the teeth if they take a dime outside their basic scholarship.
Why not pay the coach and his staff at, say, the 2007 level and reap the benefits for the education process of the university. Those savings could hire up to 25 new professors for the university at a time when there is a hiring freeze throughout the system and frozen salaries. Pinkel would still get $1.32 million dollars, not bad for playing a game.
And while you are at it why not stop immediately the $2.25 million subsidy the university givers to the athletic program. That could be used to hire 50 more faculty members.
Mike Thomson was quoted in the USA Today article on the topic. “When you pay that much money to athletics personnel it really comes across wrong.” He added, “But I totally understand the other side of it — what a successful athletics program does for the entire university.”
Does it help recruit students? Missouri closed enrollment in a recent year when the athletic success was low and all state universities have increased enrollment this year not just Missouri. Does it help get money from the legislature? That’s laughable. Does it help increase the quality of the university’s main function, educational excellence? In the recent years of successful football and basketball programs Newsweek, in its annual ranking of university quality, has dramatically downgraded the University of Missouri.
It is nice to have winning athletics programs. But that success should bring profits to the university not to just a few individuals. The athletic program is a part of the University, isn’t it, and not a separate, profit making corporation?
Dr. Richard Fulton is a Department of History, Humanities, Philosophy and Political Science professor at Northwest Missouri State University and writes a weekly column for the Maryville Daily Forum.