In the Red: UC gave the sports department $ 32.9 million to cover the deficit and create a “surplus” of sports

The University of Cincinnati soccer team defeated the University of South Florida 28-7 at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati on Saturday, October 3, 2020.

In April 2020, the University of Cincinnati (UC) sports director John Cunningham announced that the university would end its men’s football program.

Cunningham said he and UC President Neville Pinto made “a full and thorough review of UC’s sports offerings and long-term budget implications” to support the number of student-athletes currently attending UC are”.

On Jan. 26, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Cunningham’s 2020 cut to men’s football and other cost-saving measures had paid off, giving the UC sports division its “largest one-year surplus in at least 15 years.” The headline of the Enquirer reads: “Bearcats in the Black: UC Athletics reports a surplus of 7.7 million US dollars despite COVID-19 effects.”

Soaring subsidies graphic

Source: 2005-2020 Income and Expenditure Reports submitted by UC, Ohio University, University of Toledo, Kent State University, and Miami University to the NCAA.

There was only one problem: The UC sports department was not in the black in 2020, according to its NCAA report on income and expenses. The department actually ran a deficit of more than $ 25.2 million. Records show that UC officials tacitly covered the deficit and created the “surplus” by using $ 32.9 million in tuition and general fund money – a record subsidy for the sports department.

The cost for each full-time UC student in 2020 to subsidize the sports department: more than $ 1,150.

John McNay, a UC Blue Ash campus history professor who has been tracking the sports department’s spending for 20 years, said UC officials’ willingness to fund the sports department’s spiraling deficit year after year “drives me crazy.”

“You have no limit on the amount of money you can spend,” he said. “It’s completely irresponsible.”

Cunningham told The News Record (TNR) that the $ 32.9 million grant shows how much UC officials support his department. “It reflects the university’s commitment to the sports department,” he said.

By taking this move, officials have shown less commitment to educating UC students over the past decade: Between 2010 and 2019, inflation-adjusted UC tuition spending per student decreased by 13%, according to a recent study by the UC Faculty Senate and AAUP . The study found that research spending per student decreased by 26% between 2010 and 2019.

In the same years, UC officials spent more than $ 225 million in tuition and general fund money to subsidize the sports department, according to the university’s NCAA Revenue & Expense reports.

Madalyn O’Dea, a third-year communications design major who will serve as senator for the student government this fall, said she wanted UC officials to spend their tuition on what they value most – a good education.

“I don’t think I want my money to go anywhere other than my education, but I don’t have much control over it,” she said. “I think UC should be more transparent about where our money goes.”

McNay said UC’s priorities are “upside down – exercise before school”.

“UC should invest more in academics and less in other activities like sports,” he said. “However, when it comes to training students, money seems to be disappearing.”

Expense Diagram 2020

O’Dea said she knew the university helped 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 if you put a dollar sign on it, yes, sure.”

Despite the $ 32.9 million grant, Cunningham told TNR that his department “did a really good job in very difficult circumstances” managing the financial implications of the 2020 fiscal year pandemic. We should save money at every opportunity. “

“Obviously we made some tough decisions. We pulled every possible lever to get through the year and make sure we were financially liquid. We knew it was going to be the toughest year we’ve ever been through,” said Cunningham said. “I am very happy with the result and proud of my team, my coaches and student athletes for the sacrifices they have made.”

Cunningham’s comments echo many of the statements he and his staff made to the Enquirer in January, in which they credited the $ 7.7 million surplus despite the impact of COVID-19.

Cunningham didn’t mention that his department was spending 10% more in 2020 than it was in 2019. Nor did Cunningham point out that fiscal 2020 ended on June 30, just a few months after the pandemic started.

McNay said given the $ 32.9 million subsidy, it was difficult to accept Cunningham’s claim that cost-cutting efforts by his employees were creating the surplus. He said that since UC counts the subsidy as revenue, “it’s not really fair to talk about a surplus. You’re pretty bad in the hole.”

Deficits in the sports department are nothing new at UC.

For the past 12 years, the sports department’s deficits – and the subsidies to cover those deficits – amounted to more than $ 250 million from 2008 to 2019, according to UC’s NCAA Revenue & Expense reports.

Even so, the $ 32.9 million grant in Cunningham’s first year as sporting director was the largest ever at UC.

As in previous years, the grant for 2020 was financed with tuition fees and other general fund monies. Each full-time UC student paid more than $ 1,150 last year to subsidize the sports department.

Jagger Vetter, a sophomore environmental engineering student, was one of those students.

“I kind of assumed they were taking the money from the general fund, and it doesn’t seem fair to me,” said Vetter, a Florida native who selected UC for its co-op program. “It doesn’t seem right to pay that amount of money for these online classes. They’ve cut some fees lately, but we’re still paying a lot of money that goes straight to cover the deficit.”

A full-time student who attended UC for four years from 2016 to 2019 paid more than $ 5,000 to subsidize deficits in the UC sports department, records show.

Vetter said UC should find another way to subsidize the sports department.

“I think it’s a lot of money that has been taken from the students,” he said. “That should definitely not come out of the students’ pockets.”

What is responsible for the increasing sporting deficits of UC?

UC’s soccer team was the highest-earning team on campus in fiscal 2020, grossing $ 10.39 million. It also had the highest spending – more than $ 15.4 million, records show. Their deficit exceeded $ 5 million.

The UC men’s basketball team was in deficit more than $ 2 million. It was $ 2.5 million for the women’s basketball team.

Men’s football ran a deficit of $ 642,115 – less than 3% of the athletic deficit of $ 25.2 million in 2020, records show.

Sales chart 2020

Jacob Meadows, who was a sophomore focused on entrepreneurship and UC’s Digital Media Collaborative program, said cutting men’s football is an “attempt to find an easy way out of 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 another $ 7.7 million to create a surplus.

“That seems like an exaggeration, especially when all the new construction projects get approved with excessive budget,” he said.

In 2020, the UC Athletic Department spent more than $ 74 million. Approximately $ 9.8 million, or 13.3 percent, was used as grant aid to UC’s 388 student-athletes, records show.

The sports department paid their coaches more than $ 12.7 million. 70 percent of that – $ 8.9 million – went to 19 soccer and men’s basketball team coaches, records show. Another $ 8.4 million went to the administrators of the sports department.

In total, sports department officials spent more than $ 21 million on coaches and administrators in 2020 – twice as much as on sports students.

“Less than 15% of the money goes to physical education students,” said McNay. “If they cut their spending and put that money into education, that would be a much better model – more student aid and athletic scholarships.”

In 2005, the UC Sports Department grant was $ 5.6 million – significantly less than grants from Kent State University, Miami University, Ohio University, and the University of Toledo.

By 2020, UC’s sports grant had increased nearly 600% to $ 32.9 million – significantly more than the same schools grants, records show.

Cunningham is proud of the way he and his staff handled the sports department finances in 2020. He said they had taken several “painful and very difficult but necessary” measures to implement general budget cuts.

“It wasn’t easy,” Cunningham told TNR. “We saw it as a shutdown budget. We basically had a lot of conversations on this topic every day because it was such a hot topic at the time.”

McNay said UC officials are “hiding their deficits” while quietly forcing students to pay for them.

“Think about it,” he said. “The students who borrow to cover their expenses are money that UC uses for their personal business. Basically, the students pay the loans that UC should be paying.”

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