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Good times at YSU

By Bertram de Souza

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Of all the responses to the May 27 column about spending on sports at Youngstown State University, there were two that stood out because of the writers’ past ties to the institution. The letters also prompted today’s follow-up column about spending by the athletic department.

Here’s the first:

“[As] one of the few in the area who enjoys sports but may find them way, way over the top, I enjoyed your recent light shed on the money spent on college sports. The money is absolutely obscene. All the financial and budgetary issues with public colleges and then there is this ridiculous amount of money that seldom has anything to do with education. With all the recent news regarding drugs … sports is the real ‘opiate of the masses.’

“Is there any research done on college sports relating to academic achievement? I think this is where the discussion starts.”

Here’s the second letter:

“ … your column today really shed some light into a darkened area of University life. As a trustee many years ago, I made a vigilant effort to keep attention focused on athletic costs. I was often alone in those efforts. It reminds me a little of the gun control issue. We all talk about the need to ‘do something’, but when a specific action is advanced the support seems to melt away. I hope your concerns light a fire or two under the right people.”

The column of May 27 was headlined “YSU sports at what cost?” and dealt with annual spending on sports at Ohio’s 10 public universities that subsidize their athletic programs. The analysis was conducted by Cleveland.com (the Plain Dealer).

At YSU, the cost per student to subsidize sports is $991. Revenue from ticket sales covers 3.3 percent of athletic department expenses. In 2016-17, total cost of athletics was $15.4 million, with $10.4 million coming from university subsidies.

Red ink

In other words, left to its own revenue sources – ticket sales and contributions from donors – YSU’s sports would be drowning in red ink.

And yet, the payroll of more than $4 million reflects a break with reality.

The column of May 27 detailed the eye-popping salaries of the head coaches, but they aren’t the only ones benefiting from taxpayer largess.

Here are the top earners: Ronald A. Strollo, executive director of intercollegiate athletics, $140,901; Elaine A. Jacobs, associate director of athletics, $75,052; Richard Love, associate director/ticket office, $71,479; Ethan A. Solger, assistant athletics director, $70,500.

They, along with a cast of many, keep the department running like a well-oiled machine – supporters of YSU athletics argue.

But there’s that annoying little detail of the revenue stream. There isn’t one of any significance in-house, which is why university subsidies are needed.

Therein lies the rub with all the high salaries.

Even the assistant coaches are benefiting from YSU having intercollegiate athletics. Among them:

Robert Steinburg, $94,500; Ronald Stoops, $85,500; Brian Crist, $85,000; Joseph Molinari, $80,500; Richard McNutt, $77,000; John T. Murphy, $70,000.

Salaries of other assistant coaches range from the high $60,000s to the $30,000s.

The purpose of focusing on intercollegiate athletics at an urban, open-access university is to generate intelligent discussion on and off campus about the spending priorities in an era of ever-rising costs and tight state budgets. The student debt crisis is growing.