Iowa Hawkeye athletics to give more money to the 'wider university mission'

Changes aim to ease UI's 'financial burden'

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IOWA CITY — Amid swirling discussion about how increasingly lucrative collegiate athletic programs can better support their main campuses under mounting financial pressure, University of Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta on Thursday announced his department is upping its support for the wider UI mission.

In a message to campus, Barta noted the self-sustaining UI Department of Intercollegiate Athletics “has always contributed positively to the university’s bottom line.” Although it takes no UI general fund dollars and relies entirely on self-generated revenue, the department last year reported transferring more than $23 million to central campus in the form of tuition and purchased services from UI entities like parking, public safety, utilities, health care, and the residential system.

But discussions with UI President Bruce Harreld have prompted Barta to commit an additional combined $4 million in athletic revenue toward the UI general fund in the 2017 budget year that just ended and in the new 2018 term. Those resources will go specifically toward student wellness, diversity and inclusion, and overall student success.

“As state funding has decreased over the years, it has become more apparent one of the ways athletics can assist the university is by helping ease its financial burden,” Barta wrote.

The $4 million is being split evenly between fiscal 2017 — during which lawmakers cut more than $20 million in support for Iowa’s public universities — and the new 2018 budget year that began July 1. Legislators slashed another nearly $10 million in regent funding for the current year, and they’ve hinted at the possibility of even more cuts due to lower than expected shortfalls in 2017.

“These funds help to advance project and initiative efforts supporting all students on our campus,” according to Barta’s Thursday message. “Our plan is to continue to identify additional projects moving forward.”

Barta explained in this remarks Thursday that athletics revenue is on the rise, “particularly from television broadcasts,” making sharing easier. According to Board of Regent documents, the UI athletic department is expecting $117.1 million in income in the current year — up about 15 percent from the 2017 budget.

The majority of that increase is in athletic conference revenue, which jumped from $36.2 million last year to a budgeted $50.4 million in the current year.

“A slight decrease in sports income is offset by a significant increase in athletic conference revenues resulting from a new six-year television contract,” according to the board’s budget report.

“This increase has put us in a position to explore even more ways to support the greater university mission,” Barta said in his Thursday message.

Discussions about how and when university athletic programs should financially support their main campuses have been brewing both locally and nationally — amid broad changes in how states support higher education, leading to steep hikes in tuition.

The Board of Regents over the summer convened a tuition task force aimed at mapping out tuition rates for the next five years. UI President Harreld, Interim Iowa State University President Ben Allen, and University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook all proposed stepped increases calculated with the assumption of little to no increase in state support.

UI and ISU have proposed 7-percent tuition hikes annually for the next five years, irking some students and lawmakers concerned with pricing out low-income and first-generation prospects and increasing student debt.

During a recent tuition task force meeting on the UI campus, Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, specifically suggested that athletics share some of its wealth.

“I would like the regents to look at our athletic budget,” she said. “There are revenues that come from that budget that I think should go back to the students, because the university athletic program wouldn’t be here without those students.”

She especially urged a change in light of tuition proposals that could price some out of the higher education market.

“I would ask you to look at that and very seriously consider that at all of the institutions,” she said.

Iowa State students Wednesday staged a demonstration opposing tuition hikes, and Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, attended. He said the message was clear, garnering his support for any method of avoiding cost increases.

“College athletics is a big moneymaker, and if they can make money and turn some of that over to the university to help hold down student tuition, that would be a great idea,” he said. “Of course, that is an inferior alternative to the Legislature coming up with the money it ought to come up with.”

Iowa State athletics, like UI athletics, provides direct and indirect support to other ISU departments via tuition, room and board, public safety and the like. Last year those transfers totaled $24.7 million, according to ISU spokesman John McCarroll.

Despite Iowa’s announcement Thursday, McCarroll said, “There are no plans to transfer athletics revenue to the general fund of the university to make up for budget cuts the university sustained. The Iowa State Athletics Department is a self-supporting unit.”

Because UNI athletics is not self-sustaining, UNI spokesman Scott Ketelsen said that department also is not looking to give any of its funding back to the main campus.

Despite the athletics sharing arrangement at UI, spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said the new money doesn’t change Harreld’s tuition recommendation to the board.

Barta noted the new initiative is important because, “beyond competing athletically, we have a commitment and an obligation to promote student success in the classroom.”

He reported graduation numbers among UI athletes are at an all-time high — 90 percent, according to NCAA Graduation Success Rate. Over the past two years, overall student-athlete GPA has been at or above 3.0, according to Barta.

“As dedicated as we are to winning games and titles, we’re just as dedicated to making sure our students are successful in their classes and after they graduate,” he wrote.

Barta’s athletics department made news over the summer when a jury in May sided with former Associate Athletics Director Jane Meyer in a discrimination lawsuit. That verdict prompted the university to settle lawsuits filed by Meyer and former Field Hockey Coach Tracey Griesbaum to the tune of $6.5 million.

The university also is hiring an independent firm to conduct an external review of UI employment practices — both in the athletics department and across the entire university.

Barta reiterated Thursday that an athletics department “is nothing without an esteemed university as its foundation.”

“I’m proud and privileged to serve as Iowa’s director of athletics,” he wrote. “We are all committed to the current and future success of this great university.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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