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On the far side of the subsidy scale is the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. According to athletic director Randy Cubero, the Mountain Lions spend about $950,000 a year to support 150 athletes playing fourteen intercollegiate sports. With a high-school-sized 350-seat gymnasium and only 600 scholars out of a student body of 7,000 living on campus, the sports program has almost no income beyond what it gets from the state and through student fees. Cubero's highest-paid coach earns about $30,000 a year. "I gotta do something about that," he sighs. "It's ridiculous."
Proportionately speaking, then, Metro's sporting budget is hardly out of line with other schools competing in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Metro's athletic director, Joan McDermott -- the former volleyball coach -- puts the athletic department's budget at about $2.5 million a year. As with Adams State, the vast majority of that comes from the state (about $1.2 million) and student fees (another $1 million).
That said, Metro's sports program as originally envisioned and implemented by Arcese nearly a decade ago is a Cadillac version of an athletic department. The proof can be found in how much the school pours into each athlete. By that standard, Metro's athletics are very expensive, indeed.
Consider: Adams State's $1.7 million intercollegiate athletic budget provides opportunity for about 350 jocks to compete in fourteen sports. That averages out to $4,850 per athlete.
Metro's intercollegiate athletic program, by comparison, supports only 250 athletes in ten sports. At $2.5 million, that averages out to $10,000 per student-athlete -- or more than double what the Grizzlies spend. What's more, unlike Adams State, Metro doesn't even support an expensive football team.
"Their administration made a commitment to excel at athletics," points out J.R. Smith, commissioner of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Such an undertaking, he adds, costs money.
The difference inspires envy among the Roadrunners' RMAC competitors. "We wish we were more like Metro," admits Jeff Geiser, Adams State's athletic director. "Our philosophy here has been to make do with less. But I don't want to be one of those programs that makes do with less. When our basketball coach saw [Metro basketball coach] Mike Dunlap's contract, he came to me and said, 'I want to make that.' I told him, 'You do. It's just spread out over three years.'"
There are several reasons that colleges and universities support athletic programs on campus. One is that watching sports together and rooting for a school team adds something positive to campus life.
"Our biggest benefit is providing a full campus atmosphere," explains Tim Corrigan, athletic director for Denver's Johnson & Wales campus. The four-campus school believes so much in the notion of athletics-as-community-builder that last year it decided to build an intercollegiate sports program from scratch -- from zero to ten sports teams in two years.
On an even more basic level, intercollegiate sporting events give students something to do. This is particularly important in smaller communities such as Alamosa or Greeley, where a college football or basketball game might literally be the only game in town.
Neither of those benefits apply particularly to Metro. The college sits in the center of one of the most frenetic spectator-sports cities in the country. Anyone interested in taking in a game could watch professional football, hockey, soccer, baseball or basketball -- all within a mile of the Metro campus. No matter how good Metro's basketball team is, there are still plenty of other must-see games being played on any given night.
Metro doesn't have a college campus in the traditional sense of the word, either. With no dormitories on the grounds, the campus life of many students effectively ends when classes are over. Most Metro attendees are also non-traditional students -- older, mid-career students who already have lives outside their studies. While some of them may appreciate having a top-ranked volleyball team to watch, most are simply making career moves. Last year, only 5,500 student tickets were sold to all of Metro's athletic events.
The other rationale for spending a couple million dollars on a competitive sports program is to boost enrollment. Despite their high-minded mission of education and scholarship, colleges are all about income. This is true even among publicly funded institutions, whose budgets are calculated based on the number of students attending classes. The more students who attend, the more money the school receives from taxpayers and tuition.
A sports program on campus can help build the student body in a couple of ways. The first is direct. "A student who wants to participate in athletics will come to a college to participate," says Jim Fallis, athletic director at the University of Northern Colorado. "If we didn't have an athletic program and another school did -- and an athlete wanted to go to a school and major in history -- the school with the athletic program would be a factor" in convincing him to attend UNC versus some other school.
Fallis points out that an intercollegiate athletic program doesn't attract just athletes, either. At UNC, for instance, he says it's doubtful that the thirty students enrolled in the school's athletic-training program would be attending UNC if there were no sports program. The same holds true for the 170-member marching band, or the twenty-odd students who are cheerleaders. "It's all part of the buying and selling of an institution," he notes.