By Denise Dick
Youngstown State University’s Intercollegiate Athletics budget is lower than comparable universities in the same conferences, according to a document distributed to YSU trustees.
The document, on university letterhead, was obtained by The Vindicator. Its distribution follows the university’s faculty-union rejection of a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract.
After that vote, YSU-Ohio Education Association leaders argued that while many departments across campus saw cuts this year, including a 9.6 percent reduction to academic affairs, the university’s intercollegiate athletics budget increased 3.6 percent.
Union members wore buttons reading, “Academics Above Athletics.”
YSU’s fiscal year 2015 Intercollegiate Athletics budget is $14 million.
“YSU spends nearly $5 million less annually for athletics than benchmark institutions in the Missouri Valley Football Conference,” the document said. “In men’s and women’s basketball, YSU spends $1 million less annually than universities in the Horizon League. Over the past decade, the average total expenditures for all MVFC football programs have grown at a pace significantly higher than YSU.”
The union said in an email Friday that YSU’s faculty agrees with trustees and the administration that intercollegiate athletics play an important role to the university, students and the community.
“The purpose of our message ‘Academics Above Athletics’ is not to diminish the athletic department, but rather, to encourage the board of trustees and the administration to stop diminishing academics,” the email said.
All YSU students including student-athletes are enrolled to earn an education, the union contends.
“The future success of our students, as well as the future success of this institution, depends primarily on the quality of our academic programs,” the union’s email says. “In challenging financial times, every measure should be taken to preserve the quality of our academic programs. Yet the board of trustees and the administration are cutting support for academic affairs by nearly 10 percent, or $6.5 million, this year alone. These cuts will inevitably impact the quality of our academic offerings and student support services.”
Cutting academics by that amount isn’t in students’ best interests, the faculty union says. “Even our student-athletes are students first,” the email says.
The MVFC includes Illinois State University, Western and Southern Illinois universities, University of South Dakota, North and South Dakota State universities, the University of Northern Iowa and Missouri and Indiana State universities.
This fall, about 12,551 students attend YSU. Enrollment for the other MVFC schools falls in the 10,000 to 14,000 range with the exception of Illinois State with 18,714 students and Missouri State with 24,489.
The Horizon League includes Valparaiso University, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, University of Detroit Mercy, Wright State, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Cleveland State, Oakland University and the University of Illinois at Chicago for men’s and women’s basketball.
Enrollment for those universities ranges from 4,078 at Valparaiso to more than 27,800 at both UIC and Milwaukee.
For universities in the Mid-American Conference, which includes Kent State University, the University of Akron, Bowling Green and Toledo, expenditures for football and athletics are nearly twice as high as YSU’s, the document said.
Those universities’ enrollments, however, are all larger than YSU’s. Kent’s enrollment is 29,477, Akron’s is 27,000, BGSU has 19,400 and the University of Toledo, 20,700.
“Also note that the athletics budget at Cleveland State University, which does not have a football program, amounts to $11.3 million,” the document said. That school’s enrollment is about 17,700.
The document also says that the athletic program draws students to YSU from around the world. About 400 student-athletes are from outside Ohio, living in on-campus housing; and 28 international students, or about 25 percent of the university’s international students, are student athletes.
“The graduation rate for student-athletes is 65 percent, compared to a 34 percent graduation rate for the general student population,” the document says.
Information presented Thursday to trustees’ Intercollegiate Athletics Subcommittee shows that most student-athletes’ majors are in the health and human services fields.
Exercise science is the major with the highest number of student athletes, followed by general studies. Student-athletes finished spring semester with a 3.17 grade-point average, which the athletic department says is the highest overall cumulative GPA in history for that student group.
The document distributed to trustees acknowledges that although most student-athletes receive some type of scholarship, 1 in 4 receives none. They generate about $6 million annually for the university general fund in tuition, room and board and fees.
The program also is an important part of the Mahoning Valley, “attracting positive attention as well as fans, prospective students, alumni and donors to the campus,” the document argues.
“The Penguin Club, YSU’s athletics booster organization, generates more than $500,000 in revenue annually for athletics,” it said. “In addition, athletics has nearly $7.25 million in endowment funds, generating nearly $250,000 in revenue annually.”