Should contracts talks between Youngstown State University and the faculty union break down over wages and benefits, you can bet your bottom dollar the existence of the money- siphoning football program will again become a point of contention.
Indeed, with last week’s public revelation by Vindicator Sports Writer Brian Dzenis of a convicted rapist joining the football team, the faculty may well resurrect its attack on the program even if there’s agreement on a new contract.
Dzenis was the first to report that Ma’lik Richmond, one of two former Steubenville High School football players convicted in the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl in 2012, joined the YSU squad in January as a walk-on.
Richmond, who has been a student at the university since August 2016, was sentenced to one year in a juvenile detention facility and was released in 2014. He played his senior season at Steubenville, but had not pursued a college football career until now. Before coming to YSU, Richmond attended Potomac State College of West Virginia University and California University of Pennsylvania.
The idea that the young man has paid his dues and deserves a second chance will go over like lead balloons with those faculty members who question the need for an intercollegiate football program.
By allowing Richmond to join the team, coach Bo Pelini and Athletic Director Ron Strollo have once again fueled the narrative on campus that the athletic department is out of touch with the reality of higher education in Ohio today.
Eye of the storm
Indeed, it was a mere eight months ago when Pelini and Strollo were in the eye of the storm whipped up after they refused to confirm that five football players were suspended after failing tests for banned substances.
The story broke just as the football team was getting ready for the FCS national semifinal game against Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash. YSU won the game 40-38.
But it was Pelini’s contention that he has never publicly discussed disciplinary action taken against anyone in the program that caused reporters to dig deeper.
On Dec. 18, this writer offered the following observation:
“The controversy that has plagued Youngstown State University’s football team could not have come at a worse time for President James P. Tressel. Contract negotiations with unions representing the faculty and classified employees will be getting underway in the not too distant future, while the administration must come to terms with a general feeling of discontent among employees.”
Today, contract talks between YSU and the YSU-Ohio Education Association have reached a crucial point. The fact-finding process began Friday; a mediator is to meet with both sides.
Susan Gordy Ruben of the National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals of Cleveland will have 10 days after the presentations are completed to issue her report.
If the report is rejected by one or both parties within the two-week period after its release, negotiations can resume. The faculty union also has the right to strike.
The growing controversy over a football player found “delinquent” (a legal term in juvenile court) in the assault of the 16-year-old girl will become a factor in the contract talks if the sides are unable to agree on the key issue of wages and benefits.
There are rumblings the administration and faculty union are far apart on the economic issues.
In the December column, this writer referred to a comment made in 1990 by then-YSU football coach Tressel about the need for athletic departments nationwide to curtail spending.
Tressel had this to say:
“We have got to get athletic programs in order. They can give you a black eye faster than anything, but they can also do the opposite.”
But it isn’t only the black eyes that should be cause for concern at YSU.
The faculty union conducted a financial analysis of the athletic department and the findings confirm its contention that the department sucks up hundreds of thousands of dollars from the general fund to support football and other financially challenged athletic programs.
For instance, from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2015, the open-access urban university increased intercollegiate athletic spending by 46 percent – $9.6 million to $14 million. By contrast, spending on academics in the seven years increased by a mere 2 percent – $76.5 million to $78.1 million.
The analysis also revealed that spending on administration and finance went from $19.6 million to $22 million.
What the analysis does is undermine the administration’s argument that it doesn’t have the money to meet the faculty union’s wage and benefits demands.
It is important to note that Youngstown State will not receive an increase in state funding in the next two fiscal years and will not get a boost in local revenue because it has not imposed a tuition increase for the coming fall semester.
The underlying question the fact-finder must seek to answer is this: Does Youngstown State University have the money to meet the economic demands of the YSU-OEA?
If the answer is yes, the union representing classified employees will also expect the same.
If the answer is no, the prospects of a strike increase greatly.
While a walkout by classified employees would be inconvenient, but not devastating, a strike by the faculty would cause the university undue hardship.
The start of the fall semester is just around the corner, which means the administration is under pressure to come up with a compromise so the faculty will be in the classrooms on the first day of school.