The University at Buffalo's decision Monday to eliminate four sports teams won't reduce the amount students pay to support Division I athletics at UB.
It could take three to four years to see the $2 million in savings anticipated from cutting baseball, men's soccer, women's rowing and men's swimming and diving, UB President Satish K. Tripathi told The Buffalo News.
He did not expect the remaining 16 UB sports team to generate enough revenue to cover their costs.
"It's not going to be really a moneymaker. There's always going to be a subsidy," Tripathi said.
UB in recent years has fielded an athletics program that's among the most heavily subsidized in the country, with upwards of 75 percent of the $32 million athletics budget coming from student fees and general university funds.
University officials have defended the subsidy as an investment in building a competitive athletics program that adds to the overall campus experience for all students and increases UB's exposure nationally. But amid surging college costs and soaring student debt, some students and faculty have questioned the growth in the university's athletic spending.
In addition to tuition and other fees, all undergraduate students were charged $551 in 2015-16 to support intercollegiate athletics at UB. Athletics is the second largest of eight separate fees that UB charges on top of tuition to all undergraduate students. Other fees include technology, health and transportation.
The athletics fee provided $8.7 million to the intercollegiate teams. The rest of the subsidy, about $15 million, came from general university funds. Any savings from cutting the four sports would be absorbed into the university budget, Tripathi said.
Many students think the amount the university pays for athletics isn't fair, especially compared with what it spends on recreation and intramural programs, said Gina Nasca, a senior from Williamsville.
Nasca, a mechanical engineering major, serves as vice president of the university's Student Association. The association is pushing university officials to provide a fairer distribution of funds for recreation, intramurals and club sports. Those programs attract thousands of student participants but receive a tiny fraction of what goes to intercollegiate athletics. In 2015-16, it was $726,310. At the same time, about 540 Division I student athletes were the primary beneficiaries of the $8.7 million in athletics fees.
"It definitely is still an issue that SA is trying to improve," Nasca said.
The cuts, she added, "amplified" the situation. Some students were stunned that the university did not trim expenses such as lodging football players in a hotel prior to home games, before lopping off low-profile, less-costly teams, such as baseball or soccer, Nasca said.
Median athletics expenditures at 201 Division I public universities rose by nearly 30 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to an analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education, which examined financial statements provided by the universities to the NCAA.
At UB, total athletic funding grew to $31.3 million in 2014 from $25.4 million in 2010 – an increase of 23 percent. Its subsidy of sports increased to $24 million from $19.8 million in those years.
The Chronicle also reported that many athletics officials said their universities no longer could afford to spend as much as they have in recent years.
"Something had to be done," Tripathi said. "We offer too many programs. It's the long-term sustainability of the programs."
Even with the cuts announced Monday, the costs of maintaining the remaining teams will continue to grow, and it's not clear how much revenue from ticket sales and television contracts will keep pace.
"What we want is quality as opposed to quantity. We could have 25 sports. But the question is, can we support those and still compete? he said.
Tripathi said he did not have a target in mind for how much the university should subsidize its intercollegiate athletics program.
No other teams are in danger of being cut, he said.
As a public flagship university, UB should continue to support a highly competitive Division I sports program, Tripathi added.
"It's really something that's part of higher education," he said.
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