Academe, n.: An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught.
Academy, n.: A modern school where football is taught.
~Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
College football is a sport that bears the same relation to education that bullfighting does to agriculture.
Back at UNM you could not avoid the Lobos athletic teams, especially the basketball team. At any major university there is big emphasis on athletics. The athletic departments, and oftentimes the athletes themselves, get special privileges not given to other departments. I recently posted comments by Stanley Ikenberry about the corporatization of higher education, and one of the topics mentioned was athletics. He said, “Athletics departments…live a life of their own, all but professionalized, part of the entertainment industry, purchased through television revenues and shoe contracts.” This is the main point about what athletics are, entertainment, having little or nothing to do with academics. In this article I will examine UNM athletics.
Back in the 1990‘s and 2000’s there was some information about the revenue of UNM athletics reported in the media. Here is what was revealed. There are 24 sports programs at UNM, 11 women’s and 13 men’s, and it employs about 100 people in staff and coaches, but the big cash cow was the basketball program. The Lobo basketball team always drew in crowds from Albuquerque to the Pit. The combined basketball and football program drew in $2.11 million in the 96-97 fiscal year, and increased to $2.92 million in fiscal year 98-99. Breaking that down, the basketball program made $3.78 million in 98-99. The football program lost $1.32 million in 96-97, and lost “less than a million” in 98-99.
The then senior associate athletics director, Bill McGillis, admitted in 2000 that basketball was the athletic department’s cash cow, a revenue generator that also supported a number of other sports. There would be profound ramifications for these other programs if basketball lost revenue.
But this does not even look at the real costs of the athletic programs at UNM. In 2004 journalist Kevin Killough wrote a report on UNM athletics for Crosswinds, an alternative news weekly. He reported that for the fiscal year 2002-2003 University of New Mexico athletics made a reported profit overall of $400,000. But this includes the money paid from student fees and state appropriations. That year alone $750,000 from student fees are given to athletics, and the state gave $2.6 million in subsidies. Subtract this money and UNM lost $3 million from athletics, just that year.
The fiscal report also do not include the cost of the building, maintenance and renovation of the sports facilities on campus, which also take up valuable space that does not go to teaching and research. UNM’s sports facilities include the Lobo softball and baseball fields, the tennis club, University Stadium, and The Pit. The Pit was built for $1.4 million in 1966, and in 1975 another $2.2 million was put in for renovation. The costs in 2004 dollars would be $15.5 million. University Stadium had $4.8 million in renovation costs since 1960.
Back to football, one economist quoted by Killough states that “no university generates a large enough surplus to justify the capital expenditures necessary to field a football program. UNM is no different. McGillis admits that football has always been a money loser for UNM. Yet it still receives a substantial amount of money. It had an operating budget of $3.35 million in 2001-02. The university also spent $5.1 million in legislative appropriations on upgrading the University Stadium the previous year. For 2001-02 athletics got $2.74 million earmarked from state appropriations. Football coach Rocky Long’s base salary was $156,750 in 1999-2000. In 1999 the Lobo football team finished with a 3-9 ratio of wins to losses, its worst performance since 1992.
In comparison to other departments at UNM, football is behind only three: the Anderson School of Management got $5.54 million in 2001-02, the Law School got $4.17 million, and Biology got $3.39 million. Football got more than the budget for General instruction at $3.29 million, Mathematics at $3.25 million, Physics/Astronomy at $3.12 million, Electrical Engineering at $3.11 million, English at $2.71 million, the Art department and the Tamarind Institute at $2.49 million, and Chemistry at $2.47 million.
As far as salaries, Long’s salary was more than what was paid to department deans, whose average salary was $131,385; twice that of full professors at $71,100; more than the average of associate professors at $52,700; and more than assistant professors at $45,500. In comparison the then president of UNM’s salary was $218,802. That year average salaries for professors at UNM ranked last among ratings of 15 peer schools.
For athletics programs overall, it is a source of much money coming in from the business sector. In fact athletics was receiving increased revenue from other areas. There are more corporate donations and contributions to the Lobo Club, in 1997 worth about $1.5 million, along with revenue from renting out the Pit for other events. Lobo level seating can raise between $280,000 to $300,000, which is supposed to go to the scholarship fund. Suites at the football stadium generate $200,000 for the athletic department. Also in 2000 UNM moved to the Mountain West Conference, which signed a $49 million deal with ABC and ESPN, where UNM football and basketball would each receive $730,355 per year. College sports generates hundreds of million in revenues each year, but as shown above, they mostly lose money uness they are a high ranking team. UNM is not one.
Furthermore there is the money and other resources given to student athletes. Back in 2003 there were 400 to 500 student athletes, making up 1.5 percent of the entire student body. Most are on scholarships. They are given their own facilities, tutors, counselors, free textbooks, labs and computers, and many other resources not available to other students. The majority of Lobo football players in 2001, 71 of 85, were on scholarship. Most of them were from out of state and annually received grants of $10,000 each. Despite this, student athletes perform worse academically than the rest of the student population. The average GPA at UNM in this period was 3.21. For student athletes it was 3.04, with all the extra resources given them. Mens basketball, the biggest program, it was 2.60, and mens footbal was 2.69. For football, those who entered UNM in fall 1993, only 27 percent graduated. Hardly any of the student athletes went on to the NFL. The basketball teams hardly graduate any students. There is a 48 percent dropout rate for student athletes at UNM, nationally a 58 percent dropout rate for student athletes at all colleges. The emphasis for student athletes from the university is not their education but the money and prestige they bring to the institutions, and the athletes are only their tools.
Back in 1993, the GPA’s of the Lobo basketball team were leaked to the Daily Lobo campus newspaper, and they ran a story on them. It was reported that 5 members of the team had semester GPA’s of 1.66 or lower, and 4 had cumulative GPA’s or worse. One player had a GPA of 0.0. NCAA regulations require athletes to maintain a 2.0 GPA. This story caused a minor scandal at the time. After this, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution to get rid of intercollegiate sports at UNM. There has been less anti-athletic sentiment since this, and sports still has a prominent place in UNM life.
The corporatization of the university is evident in the athletic department. In an interview in 1997, then Athletic Director Rudy Davalos talked about his job. Before he became athletic director at UNM, Davalos lived in Texas and was an assistant coach and director of player personnel with the San Antonio Spurs for 3 years. There, he gained experience in marketing skills, which he brought to his position at UNM, where much of his job involves fundraising and corporate deals at the facilities. Davalos claims corporate giving went from $90,000 to $1.4 million in less than five years. He claims that running an athletic department is similar to running a bank.
“I would compare my running this department as to running a bank. I’m like a bank CEO, you know, where you have key people under you and you are dealing with the public all the time. We have fans, they have customers – the competition is not as great as the banks here have, although I would say there really is not any business we can be compared too. We are close to the banking business because they try to keep their customers happy and we try to keep our fans happy.” (Deme)
The large amounts of money given to sports at UNM and other colleges and universities will likely continue. That money could go to many struggling academic departments who can do much more with it, certainly create more results than have been received from the athletic programs. But overall the university athletic programs are supported by the business elite in New Mexico, and the corporate interests and cultish devotion to sports will continue to make these programs prominent. One example is the support received by then Regent president Larry Willard, who was also CEO of Wells Fargo Bank, which also purchased substantial advertising at University Stadium. He stated “It’s kind of like throwing a rock in the pond the rings go out…It affects the students. It affects the community. It affects the people getting out their checkbooks.”
The disproportionate influence of business interests in modern universities is one that needs to be challenged by progressive forces on campuses, and athletics is one area that needs to be part of this challenge.
-Hall, Mike (Associate Sports Editor). “Men’s Basketball Continues to Sustain UNM Athletics.” Albuquerque Journal. July 6, 2000. Section: Sports. Pg. C1.
-“A Matter of Priorities: Lobos Football: Power or Pipsqueak?” Albuquerque Tribune. August 16, 2001. Pg. 6.
-Killough, Kevin. “Campus Royalty: The True Cost of Sports at UNM and Elsewhere.” Crosswinds Weekly. April 1-8, 2004. pg. 9-11.
-Deme, J. Howard. “UNM Lobo Sports Is Big Business.” Albuquerque Business Times. July 21-August 4, 1997.