How UO students spend $5 million a year on athletics

It’s the beginning of another school year, which means another round of tuition hikes for UO students. The damage this year is a 6.6 percent increase for in-state students (about $810 per year) and a 3 percent increase for out-of-state (about $945). It was nearly 10.6 percent for in-state students, …

It’s the beginning of another school year, which means another round of tuition hikes for UO students. The damage this year is a 6.6 percent increase for in-state students (about $810 per year) and a 3 percent increase for out-of-state (about $945). It was nearly 10.6 percent for in-state students, but a last-minute influx of state support helped mitigate the increase. Tuition has gone up for the fourth straight year and roughly doubled in the past decade.

The Oregon athletic department, meanwhile, continues to thrive. According to its projected 2018 budget, it expects to make $113 million in revenue, up from $110 million last year and $40 million a decade ago. Each year, however, it spends every dollar it brings in. It recently paid to buy former football coach Mark Helfrich and his coaching staff out of their contracts and hire Willie Taggart and 12 new assistant and strength coaches.

Of the $113 million in revenue in 2018, about $5 million will come directly out of UO students’ pockets. Students, through tuition and fees, foot the bill for tutoring and advising services for student-athletes, President Michael Schill’s luxury seats at Autzen Stadium and Matthew Knight Arena, student tickets to football and basketball games and debt service on the basketball arena and parking garage.

Over the summer, the Emerald asked Schill whether he would consider pulling any money from the athletic department budget to mitigate a tuition increase for students. The answer was a resounding no. He said athletics is going through its own budget issues, and that he is “comfortable” with the the current level of subsidy.

“We’re not providing them with additional money to cover their problems across their budget issues, and they’re not providing us with money to take care of the academic budget issues,” Schill said. “Athletics is making its own cuts to deal with their issues comparable to our issues. It’s not like there’s this bundle of money sitting over there that is ready to be tapped for the academic enterprise.””

Athletic department spokesman Jimmy Stanton noted that the athletic department funds roughly $12 million in athletic scholarships and pays the full tuition rate for out-of-state student-athletes, whereas some other schools pay the in-state rate. He said the amount of institutional support the athletic department receives is “among the lowest in the country.” The athletic department also pays UO roughly $3.5 million a year in administrative and gift assessments. (All school operations, including ASUO, are required to pay a set percent of its expenditure base back to UO.)

Chris Sinclair, a UO math professor and the new Senate President, said the Senate this year will not focus on issues related to the athletics budget. Any legislation it passes related to athletics spending would have to be signed by Schill, who is unlikely to do so, Sinclair said. So unlike previous years, he said, the Senate will not waste time discussing problems it can’t fix.

“If we’re identifying a group of students to give special privileges, and we’re using money from the general fund for that, then I think that is a big problem,” Sinclair said. “My ability to make that happen or change the system, however, is severely limited. President Schill has made it clear many times that he doesn’t think that the faculty has any power over decisions that happen in athletics.”

In 2013, the UO Senate — comprised of faculty, staff and student leaders — passed a resolution to end subsidies to the athletic department from the school’s education and general fund, which funds its academic endeavors, but it never led to any policy. In 2015, it passed legislation to tax the athletic department and redirect the funds for academic purposes, but neither interim President Scott Coltrane nor President Schill signed it.

“I think we are in a much more healthy place than many universities are,” said Schill. “Now you have some people out there that say we shouldn’t have Division I athletics. I don’t agree with that. I think the Division I athletics program that we have is a great one. I think it contributes to the student and the alumni experience here and is one of the reasons we get applications and students from all over the world.”

“I don’t care what’s happening anywhere else; we need to make good decisions at our university,” said Nathan Tublitz, a biology professor and former UO Senate President. “If you look at the athletic department’s budget, they can cut absolutely everything. They don’t need the zillion people that they have over there. They don’t need the 10 assistant coaches for football. They don’t need to pay everyone $300,000, which is more than any faculty member on campus — and that’s the assistant coaches. But to pay for faculty salaries, student benefits here on campus, to pay for student services — they can’t do it, because they don’t have the money. It’s a sad state of affairs.”

UO will generate roughly $12.5 million from the tuition increase this year, according to UO.

Here is how $5 million in student money will be spent this year on athletics.

Jaqua Academic Center – $2 million

UO students pay roughly $2 million per year on tutoring and advising services available exclusively to UO’s approximately 450 student-athletes, financial transparency reports show. By comparison, UO spends about the same amount each year on the Teaching and Learning Center in the fourth of the library or basement of PLC, which offers free group tutoring services and paid one-on-one sessions to 20,000 undergraduates. These student-athlete services take place in the Jaqua Academic Center for Student-Athletes, the $42-million, three-story glass cube located on the corner of Agate Street and 13th Avenue that Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike and an Oregon alum, donated to the athletic department in 2010.

As part of the arrangement between Knight and UO, UO agreed to cover the operational costs of the 37,000-square foot building, including staff salaries, maintenance and supplies. That includes 85 paid tutors — up from 40 in the old facility — and a number of amenities for student-athletes, including one-on-one tutoring with a different tutor for each one of their classes. They each get a MacBook computer engraved with a custom Oregon ‘O’ around the Apple logo. According to financial transparency reports, computers cost UO students roughly $125,000 a year, and engraving services cost another $10,000.

Matthew Knight Arena – $502,000

The most expensive on-campus basketball arena in the U.S. costs UO students roughly $502,000 a year in debt service, plus the cost of using the arena for school events. A decade ago, when Knight pledged $100 million to build the $227 million arena, the athletic department scrambled to find funds to buy the land on which to build it, which at the time was owned by a bakery plant. So in 2009, then-athletic director Pat Kilkenny made a deal with then-President Dave Frohnmayer that ultimately left UO students paying roughly a quarter of of the $1.8-million-a-year land debt payment.

The terms of the deal were controversial. Because the athletic department would no longer be using McArthur Court, the old basketball gym, it agreed to give the land back to UO so long as UO paid for a portion of the new arena land debt equal to the ratio of the land area of McArthur Court to the land area of the new arena. McArthur Court, however, was paid for by student fees, so some were outraged that the land did not belong to athletics in the first place.

In addition to land debt service, UO students also pay money to use Matthew Knight Arena. Financial records obtained by the Emerald show UO has paid athletics more than $230,000 in the past three years on expenses on 27 school events at Matthew Knight Arena, including rent, audio/video technology, janitors, ushers and changeover (changing the venue from a basketball facility to accommodate different types of events). Using Matthew Knight Arena for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ lecture in February, for example, cost UO nearly $40,000 — not including the $41,000 in donor money it paid to Coates.

Student Tickets – $1.7 million

UO students pay athletics nearly $1.7 million a year in student fees for tickets to UO sporting events. The amount each year is negotiated by the athletic department with ASUO, UO’s student government. Students currently pay about 75 percent of the tickets’ “fair market value,” as determined by the athletic department. Athletics, however, seeks closer to 80 percent, so annually it asks ASUO to pay more money for the same number of tickets to football and basketball games.

The relationship between ASUO and the athletic department is strained as a result. In 2015, the athletic department pulled 300 tickets out of the student ticket lottery because ASUO refused to pay extra. Fourteen ASUO senators responded by signing a petition demanding athletics stop cutting tickets, and called its actions “greedy and deplorable.” ASUO went three years without paying extra, until last March, when it made a one-time payment of $10,000 to athletics to show the department it “wants to work with” it.

President Schill’s Luxury Seats – $412,000

As part of the 2009 agreement between Frohnmayer and Kilkenny, UO agreed to pay the athletic department $375,000 a year for use of the presidential suite, 80 club level season tickets, eight reserved season tickets and 11 parking spaces at Autzen Stadium. UO also agreed to pay for 20 men’s basketball season tickets and four garage parking passes at Matthew Knight Arena, which amounted to $32,456 last year. The seats are used “for donor engagement and fundraising activities,” according to athletic department spokesman Craig Pintens.

Parking Garage and Parking Revenue – $625,000

Also part of the 2009 agreement, UO agreed to finance a portion of the debt service on the underground parking garage at Matthew Knight Arena and allow athletics to keep the parking revenue generated during games, as well as outside events managed by athletics, such as concerts. This amounts to $521,000 a year for debt service and between $250,000 and $270,000 in lost revenue — minus roughly $150,000 that the athletic department pays the City of Eugene for parking enforcement — during Matthew Knight Arena events.

Critics of the athletic department are not advocating to get rid of the UO athletic program, but for the administration to realign its priorities. The academic side of the university is struggling, they say, while the athletic department is already rich.

“We’re not saying you need to completely get rid of the other one; we’re just saying you need to rebalance your priorities,” Tublitz said. “Is it more important to make sure a student is successful academically or that our teams do better athletically?”

President Schill, however, says the athletic department has financial issues of its own and that he is “happy” with the current level of institutional support.

“What I like about our athletic enterprise is that we have this practice where we don’t subsidize them very much and we’re not taking money from them,” Schill said. “When (Athletic Director) Rob Mullens does his budget, he knows not to look to me fill any holes, which I’d say is better than most of the units on the academic side. I think that both sides of the house have missions that they need to achieve, and they have the same financial problems we have.”

Follow Kenny Jacoby on Twitter @kennyjacoby

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