Friday, November 09, 2007

Football Profit Claim Challenged at SDSU

Professors at San Diego State are not letting the athletic director get away with calling his football program "a profitable enterprise."

To be clear, the faculty supports football -- they unanimously rejected a resolution calling for the termination of the team -- but some are objecting to the the athletic department's mischaracterization of the program's profitability, which, they argue,"obfuscates" consideration of the merits of a football program.

According to this column in the San Diego Union-Tribune, SDSU football shows a positive balance because it includes a "seven-figure subsidy" from the University on the revenue side of the ledger. Moreover, the columnist points out, college athletic departments are generally not bound by Generally Accepted Accounting Practices. Things that most enterprises would report as costs -- office space, utilities, debt service on facilities -- may not appear (or may be understated) on expenditure side of the football program's budget. This might explain why an independent accountant concluded that SDSU's program ran a $1.6 million deficit last year -- which doesn't count the $890K in the football took in from the University itself.

I agree with the columnist that " not the only purpose of college football. Nor can its value be adequately conveyed on a spreadsheet." But that doesn't give athletics the right to obscure the true financial cost of football. One member of the faculty said he wished the AD would just be honest about the cost of football and then explain "why we think its worth it."

More faculties should question the accounting practices of university athletic departments. When they labor under the myth of football profitability, athletic departments are afraid to trim the football budget. Instead, they'll cut entire teams, usually other men's sports, because the law prohibits schools from taking away opportunities from the sex that is already underrepresented to begin with. But if it's the case that all sports are subsidized, then no sport should receive special treatment. All sports should eligible to do their share of cost-cutting, and no sport should have immunity form cuts based on false pretense of profitability.

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