Athletics funding, subsidies in question

The 2015-2016 athletics budget currently sits at $23.3 million in projected spending despite only anticipating $8.9 million in total revenue for the fiscal year.

This means that along with marginal subsidies from the NCAA, the university will have to pump around $14 million into their athletics program to stay afloat.

$14 million dollars is a chunk of change, but in comparison to WKU’s nearly $400 million operating budget, it may not seem like that much. 

However, in a fiscal year that sees Academic Affairs trim over $5.5 million from their operating budget, the athletics department will still receive that $14 million subsidy from the university. 

In the athletics budget, $1.03 million is allocated to the (five-years suspended) men and women’s swim and dive team combined. It’s a figure that has caused concern among students, alumni and  WKU’s Board of Regents members.

“I know that we have committed to pay the scholarships to those students who decide to stay,” Faculty Regent Barbara Burch said when the budget was proposed in June. “I think that (paying scholarships) is the right thing to do, and I do realize that it is going to take some dollars to pay those commitments. I also know a significant amount of that money is not scholarship funds.”

The swim and dive team won’t compete, and while the university agreed to continue to honor scholarships to  swimmers and divers that decided to stay, it remains unclear as to where the rest of those funds will go and whether their use requires any sort of allowance from non-athletic administrators. 

“Well we haven’t even started the school year yet, so I would be better able to answer (where the funds will go) once we have got into things,” said WKU Athletic Director Todd Stewart. “We have been very careful not to reallocate that money right now because if you reallocate it and the program comes back, then we will have to pull it from somewhere.”

Stewart did note that several student-athletes elected to stay after the team was suspended. For the time being, Stewart said the money ideally will be spent on their educational experience. 

“There will actually be about 20 swimmers still here this year as either undergraduates or those receiving fifth-year aid so there is not a lot of savings this year in terms of the swim budget,” Stewart said. “Most of it will go back to swimmers.”

For some on the Board of Regents, however, these budget actions put into question the university’s priorities. Burch and Tamela Smith, the staff regent, are among the skeptics calling the $1.03 million allocation irresponsible. 

“I think it is in general a problem for society that we put so much emphasis on sports,” Smith said. “But they bring national and international attention to the university in ways that, unfortunately, academics can’t and doesn’t—which is so completely wrong—but that is reality.”