- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - Ball State University expects to generate nearly $1 million in ticket sales from its 19 intercollegiate athletic teams in 2014-15.

That falls far short of funding the $17.8 million athletics budget.

Even with income from concession sales; NCAA allocations; $1,050,000 in guarantees paid out by Army and Iowa for road football games; private gifts; paid parking; school general funds and other sources, there remains an $11.6 million budget shortfall.

Hidden fees collected from students will make up that deficit, funding 65 percent of the budget adopted this summer by the board of trustees.

“Wow, I wasn’t aware of that,” Ball State freshman Macon Shroyer from Selma told The Star Press (https://tspne.ws/1p1ZNwi ). “That’s quite a budget to spend on sports. Not that they’re not important, but that’s still a lot. I’ve seen the technology fee and other stuff like that, but I haven’t seen anything specifically for sports.”

The vast majority of students in the Mid-American Conference, of which BSU is a member, are “flat-out stunned” to learn how much they pay in athletic subsidies, says David Ridpath, associate professor of sports administration at Ohio University, who surveyed 3,243 MAC students.

His findings, to be published in the winter issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Sport, suggest students are aware of the fees but uninformed of the amount or purpose. And athletics were not a factor in their decision to enroll in a MAC school.

“They said it’s nice to have athletics, but they didn’t come to Ball State because it had Bonzi Wells a few years ago,” Ridpath told The Star Press.

Students at MAC schools might go to their teams’ games, “but they get their athletic fix from and identify with schools they watch on TV like Ohio State and Indiana University,” he said. “When they come to these schools, kids accept the fact that only on a rare, rare occasion would you see a MAC school play for a national championship.”

“I’m not saying student activity fees are bad, but we way, way overspend,” Ridpath said. “If the university thinks this is no problem, then show the parents and the students what they are paying and why they are paying it. If they did that, then universities would have a lot more backlash. It should be transparent to the consumer.”

Critics of what is often called the “athletic arms race” in college sports say “disarmament” could help make college more affordable, especially at what the Center for College Affordability and Productivity calls the lesser-known, less-affluent, nonflagship schools like Ball State that are more athletically marginal.

But the subsidies are not limited to those schools, nor are they restricted to student fees. Subsidies also include both direct and indirect support from the university, such as state funds, tuition, administrative costs, facilities and grounds maintenance, security, utilities, depreciation and debt service.

Only seven of 230 public schools analyzed by USA Today took no subsidy money in 2013 (LSU, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Purdue and Texas).

The subsidy at Indiana University was only $2.5 million, but IU and Purdue are members of the Big Ten Conference, whose revenue sources include the Big Ten Network that reaches more than 60 million households and is on the air 24 hours a day.

Subsidies at MAC schools ranged from $11.1 million at the University of Toledo to $22.3 million at Eastern Michigan University.

Ball State officials say it might be a bit myopic to suggest universities are leading the way in society’s obsession with sports, noting for example that The Star Press devotes an entire section of its daily newspaper to sports.

“Human fascination with organized sports reaches back centuries to the days of the Coliseum and the first Olympics,” Ball State spokeswoman Joan Todd said. “It is not a situation we created, but is one where we want to participate and compete. Ball State is not in an athletic arms race. We are in a race to stay in the game, stay competitive and provide students opportunities.”

During the past eight years of that “race,” athletic fees collected from BSU students increased from $6.9 million in 2005 to $10.9 million in 2013 - a growth rate of 58 percent, or 5.9 percent per year.

In the past decade, from 2004 to 2014, the athletic fee has increased from $478 a year to $610, a cumulative increase of 28 percent, or 2.5 percent per year. The dollar amounts collected increased at a greater rate than that because of enrollment increases, says Bernie Hannon, BSU’s assistant treasurer. Both undergraduate and graduate students pay the fee. Part-time and summer-school students also pay the fee, but at lesser amounts.

Athletic expenses include salaries for coaches, graduate assistants, service staff and student wages; athletic scholarships; uniforms and equipment; travel, meals and lodging; supplies; awards; referees; printing and photography; equipment and insurance. This year’s travel budget for Cardinal teams is a little more than $2 million, personnel expenses exceed $5 million and scholarships will cost more than $7 million.

The athletics fee charged to Ball State students allows them to get into games at no additional charge, but some events are poorly attended.

Football and basketball are the biggest draws. But home attendance at BSU football games this fall is averaging 12,252, about 10,000 less than capacity, while an average of 3,066 fans watched men’s basketball games last season at Worthen Arena, which seats 11,500. The attendance figures include nonstudents.

Home attendance averages at other Cardinal athletic events range from 782 for women’s basketball to 170 for women’s field hockey. Attendance is not kept for men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s tennis, or women’s cross country, gymnastics and track and field.

Ball State earmarks $30,000 a year to encourage more students to frequent Cardinal sporting events. This year it is spending the money on attendance prizes and rewards including a television, a campus parking pass, a bookstore gift card, an iPad, 6,000 rally towels, 2,000 sunglasses, 1,000 cups, “Red-Out” T shirts and 200 tumblers.

BSU says the earmarks are increasing the appearance of students at athletic events.

Kelsey Johnson, a junior theater major from Indianapolis, didn’t even know until this year that Ball State has a men’s volleyball team. The only sporting events she has attended at BSU were two football games her freshman year.

“I’m not interested in that form of entertainment so much,” she said. “I don’t like to be outside in the cold, and some of those people are intoxicated. I just wonder why it’s so much to support athletics and not as much to support other things that I think are equally as important. When I was in high school it was the same way. Athletes are obviously important, but … I just wonder why there’s such an imbalance.”

Jack Hesser, a science major and a student senator, says the athletic fees make a lot of sense to him.

“We do receive free tickets as students, so we are able to go to all the athletic events and not have to pay ticket fees, which at other universities can be quite expensive,” he said. “If it’s a Friday night and I want to go to a volleyball game with a group of my friends, I don’t have to worry about paying for those tickets.”

Like some other MAC schools, Ball State omits intercollegiate athletic fees from its billing statements. Ball State’s billing statements do itemize recreation, health, technology and transportation fees. Nor are athletic fees, which are much higher than the others, shown on the bursar’s office website, which claims to provide “detailed cost information, such as special fees.”

Athletic fees are hidden, along with a dozen other fees, in a category on billing statements and on the website called “student services fees” totaling $647 per semester. At $305.33 per semester, the athletics fee is by far the largest among the 13 fees included in student services. Others include Emens Auditorium operating expense ($16.85), the Arts Alive Concert Series ($2.04), Late Nite Saturday parties ($8.91), and the student center ($35.37).

“There are so many hidden fees,” said Ball State junior Heather Nawrocki, who attended one football game last year and the homecoming game this year, for the fun and as part of a fundraising effort for Riley Hospital for Children. …

MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher declined comment on Ridpath’s findings. Assistant Commissioner Ken Mather told The Star Press the MAC will not comment on a study that has not yet been published.

MBA Jeff Smith, a management instructor at University of South Carolina Upstate and a second author of the MAC study led by Ridpath, suspects Ball State is “falling into the same trap as my school.”

He told The Star Press: “It’s just a fact that our (South Carolina Upstate) tennis team has gone 19 years without an American on it. Our soccer team is bringing in kids from Europe and South America. Nobody’s at the games. They travel all over the country for free, we feed them, give them a place to live and an education and then they go back home to live.”

Critics like Smith are calling for distance limits on travel. One somewhat dramatic reform proposal would be to realign conferences to be more regional in nature. Schools in the MAC conference are all in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, with the exception of the latest member - the University at Buffalo in New York.

Another idea is to play fewer nonconference games, which generally require longer travel distances.

Other reform proposals call for reductions in the number of teams and scholarships.

Ball State fields 19 teams - seven men’s and 12 women’s - a common number among MAC schools, though Ohio, Toledo and Western Michigan send out only 16 teams and only 17 teams compete at Northern Illinois.

Of the 447 student athletes enrolled at Ball State this fall, 334, or three fourths of them, receive some athletic scholarship, funded in part by the controversial athletic fees. Of the 334 on scholarship, 166, or half of them, are on “full-ride” scholarships that include tuition, room and board, textbooks, supplies and other payments. There are some variations on precise amounts depending on whether the full-ride scholarship recipient is an in-state or out-of-state student.

The Star Press conducted extensive interviews with BSU Treasurer Randy Howard for this article last year and again in August before he left to take another job. BSU, which has not yet hired a new treasurer, says its position hasn’t changed since those interviews and it stands by Howard’s comments.

He said it was inappropriate and “maybe even unfair” to compare athletic subsidies at Ball State to those at Indiana and Purdue universities.

Schools in the Big Ten and SEC “generate significantly more revenue from lucrative television deals, merchandise licensing, ticket sales, NCAA allocations and donations,” Howard said.

Division 1 NCAA athletics “speak to the size, stature and vibrancy of the campus, as do art museums, green space and theaters,” Howard said.

He said Division 1 sports provide a platform for school spirit and bring the university attention at the local, state and national level, placing the university’s name in front of large audiences of prospective students, alumni, donors, legislators and “influencers.” The football team’s appearance in a bowl game translates into millions of dollars in advertising.

“At Ball State, there is little difference between athletic scholarships and financial aid for other types of students like musicians, science students, gifted students, students with financial need and so forth,” he said.


Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com

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