In April 2020, University of Cincinnati (UC) athletic director John Cunningham announced that the university interrupt men’s soccer program.
Cunningham said he and UC President Neville Pinto decided after “engaging in a full and in-depth review of UC’s sporting offerings and the long-term budgetary implications of supporting the number of student-athletes currently at UC “.
On January 26, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Cunningham’s cut in men’s football and other cost-saving measures paid off in 2020, giving UC’s sports department the “largest annual surplus in at least 15 years “. As the Enquirer’s headline put it, “Bearcats in the Black: UC Athletics Reports $ 7.7 Million Surplus Despite Effects of COVID-19.”
There was only one problem: The UC Sports Department did not finish 2020 “in the dark,” according to its NCAA Income and Expense report. The department actually had a deficit of over $ 25.2 million. Records show that UC officials quietly covered the deficit and created the “surplus” using $ 32.9 million in tuition and general funds – a record grant for the sports department.
The cost for each full-time undergraduate UC in 2020 to subsidize the sports department: over $ 1,150.
John McNay, a history professor at UC’s Blue Ash Campus who has tracked sports department spending for 20 years, said UC officials’ willingness to fund the sports department’s growing deficit year after year “amazes me”.
“They have no limit on the amount of money they spend,” he said. “It’s totally irresponsible.”
The “backwards” priorities of the CPU
Cunningham told The News Record (TNR) that the $ 32.9 million grant shows how much UC officials are supporting his department. “This reflects the university’s commitment to the sports department,” he said.
By this measure, officials have shown less commitment over the past decade to educating UC students: between 2010 and 2019, UC education spending per student, adjusted for inflation, fell 13%, according to a recent report. study by the Senate of the Faculty of UC and AAUP. The study found that research spending per student fell 26% between 2010 and 2019.
During those same years, UC officials spent more than $ 225 million in tuition and general funds to subsidize the sports department, according to NCAA income and expense reports from the ‘university.
Madalyn O’Dea, a third-year communications design student who will be a student government senator in the fall, said she wanted UC officials to spend her tuition on what she values the more: a good education.
“I don’t think I want my money to go anywhere other than my studies, but I don’t have much control over it,” she said. “I think UC should be more transparent with where our money is going.”
McNay said UC’s priorities are “inside out – sport before school”.
“UC should invest more in academics and less in other activities like sports,” he said. “However, when it comes to educating students, the money seems to disappear.”
O’Dea said she knew the university was helping fund the sports department, but had no idea the grant was $ 32.9 million in 2020. When asked if the number shocked her, O’Dea said, “I think when you put a dollar sign on it, yeah, sure.”
“We have pulled all the levers possible”
Despite the $ 32.9 million grant, Cunningham told TNR his department “has done a very good job under very difficult circumstances” in dealing with the financial impact of the pandemic in fiscal year 2020. He said his department was responsible for the $ 7.7 million surplus by taking “every possible opportunity we have to save money.”
“Obviously we made some tough decisions, we pulled all the levers we could to get through the year and make sure we could be financially solvent knowing this was going to be the toughest year we’ve ever had. “, Cunningham mentioned. “I am very happy with the result and proud of my team, my coaches and my student-athletes for the sacrifices they have made.”
Cunningham’s comments echo numerous statements he and his staff made to the Enquirer in January in which they took credit for the $ 7.7 million surplus despite the impact of COVID-19 .
Cunningham did not mention that his department spent 10% more in 2020 than in 2019. Nor did Cunningham point out that fiscal 2020 ended on June 30, just a few months after the start of the pandemic.
McNay said that given the $ 32.9 million grant, it’s hard to accept Cunningham’s claim that cost-cutting measures taken by his staff produced the surplus. He said that since UC records the grant as income, “it’s not really fair to talk about a surplus. They’re pretty badly in the hole.”
$ 250 million in grants over 12 years
Sports department deficits are not new to UC.
Over the past 12 years, sports department deficits – and the grants to cover those deficits – have totaled more than $ 250 million, according to UC’s NCAA Revenue & Expense reports from 2008 to 2019.
Even so, the $ 32.9 million grant in Cunningham’s first year as athletic director was the largest UC ever made.
The 2020 grant, like those in previous years, was funded by tuition fees and other dollars from the general fund. Every full-time undergraduate student at UC paid over $ 1,150 last year to subsidize the sports department.
Jagger Vetter, in his second year majoring in environmental engineering, was one of those students.
“I kind of assumed they were taking the money from the general fund, and that doesn’t feel right to me,” said Vetter, a Florida native who chose UC for his co-op program. “It doesn’t seem fair to pay this amount of money by doing this number of online courses. They’ve cut some fees lately, but we’re still paying a lot of money that goes directly to cover the deficit.”
A full-time undergraduate student who attended UC for the four years from 2016 to 2019 paid more than $ 5,000 to subsidize deficits in UC’s sports department, records show.
Vetter said UC should find another way to subsidize the sports department.
“I think a lot of money was taken from the students,” he said. “It certainly shouldn’t come out of the pockets of the students.”
What is responsible for the growing sports deficits of UC?
The UC football team was the highest-grossing team on campus in fiscal 2020, grossing $ 10.39 million. It also had the highest spending – over $ 15.4 million, according to records. Their deficit has exceeded $ 5 million.
The UC men’s basketball team had a deficit of over $ 2 million; for the women’s basketball team, it was $ 2.5 million.
Men’s football had a deficit of $ 642,115 – less than 3% of the 2020 sports deficit of $ 25.2 million, according to the records.
Jacob Meadows, a sophomore studying entrepreneurship and UC’s Digital Media Collaborative program, said the elimination of men’s football was an “attempt at an easy solution to a big, complex problem.”
Meadows said he was unaware that UC officials used $ 25.2 million in general funds and tuition to cover the sports department’s deficit and an additional $ 7.7 million to create excess.
“It seems excessive, especially with the approval of all new construction projects going over budget,” he said.
Where the money goes
In 2020, UC’s sports department spent more than $ 74 million. About $ 9.8 million, or 13.3%, was used as scholarships for UC’s 388 student-athletes, the records show.
The sports department paid its coaching staff more than $ 12.7 million. Seventy percent of that – $ 8.9 million – went to 19 coaches of the men’s soccer and basketball teams, according to the records. Another $ 8.4 million went to sports department administrators.
In total, sports department officials in 2020 spent more than $ 21 million on coaches and administrators, double what they spent on student-athletes.
“Less than 15% of the money goes to student-athletes,” McNay said. “If they cut spending and shift that money to education, that would be a much better model – more student aid and sports scholarships.”
In 2005, UC’s Department of Athletics grant was $ 5.6 million, which is significantly lower than grants from Kent State University, Miami University, Ohio University and the University of Toledo, according to records.
By 2020, UC’s sports grant had climbed nearly 600% to $ 32.9 million, which is significantly more than grants from those same schools, according to records.
Cunningham is proud of the way he and his staff handled the sports department’s finances in 2020. He said they had taken several “painful and very difficult but necessary” steps to implement general budget cuts.
“It wasn’t easy,” Cunningham told TNR. “We approached it as a closing budget. We had a lot of conversations almost daily on this topic because it was such a hot issue at the time.”
McNay said UC officials “hid their deficits” while quietly forcing students to pay them.
“Think about it,” he said. “Students who take out loans to cover their expenses are money that UC uses for their personal affairs. Basically, students pay the loans that UC is expected to pay.”