Defunding athletics, prioritizing academics

If Portland State students actually want to have an athletics program at PSU, then we’d be willing to fund it through our student fees. So why hasn’t anyone advocated for that? It’s simple.

Students already pay thousands of dollars to attend PSU, and I doubt anyone wants to pay more money to go here. Keeping tuition and fee costs frozen for students is already an incredibly difficult and complex task. Over the past decade state funding for higher education has decreased across the nation. Unfortunately, Oregon ranks near the bottom in state support for universities. State funding now contributes to less than 14 percent of PSU’s operations. Thus, PSU will have to cut $15 million from the next academic year’s general overhead budget. PSU’s administration is still determining how to handle this shortfall.

Before I pitch why defunding athletics could serve as an effective method for handling this shortfall, I must admit that defunding programs is not a sustainable solution. The lack of stable and adequate funding for Oregon’s Department of Education is by far the most important issue to address. However, convincing the state to increase and stabilize funding for education is an ongoing battle. Despite the need to resolve that systemic issue, PSU unfortunately still needs to figure out where to cut $15 million.

Why do students attend PSU? To get an education, acquire a degree and become qualified for more jobs. If PSU’s administration truly values strengthening futures for the majority of students, defunding athletics would serve as an effective method.

To clarify, I’m not suggesting defunding the Rec Center and intramurals. Athletics refers to the official sports teams. Defunding PSU’s athletics would simply free up a lot of money. An estimated $2,265,445 would be saved from the general overhead budget and $3,702,909 would be saved from student fees.

Fun fact of the day: 25 percent of total student fees went to PSU’s athletics department this year.

What’s the student fee? Any person who is currently enrolled for one or more credit hours at PSU pays it. Student fees are used to fund university programs and services that, in addition to the traditional academic elements of the university, further the cultural or physical development of the students at large. What does this have to do with PSU athletics? If PSU’s athletics program receives no funding, not only would PSU be able to significantly account for the general overhead budget shortfall, but other vital university areas such as the professors, the Rec Center, Smith Memorial Student Union, etc. will have a better opportunity to sustain and/or improve funding without increasing tuition and fee costs for students.

Last year PSU athletics spent $447,000 more than it gained in revenue. From a business model perspective, PSU athletics does not develop enough revenue to break even. The university takes a hit to keep the program alive. That may not be the case if more students and people in general attended games and bought more merchandise. Ask a student, and you’ll discover that the majority of the over 28,000 students enrolled have not attended or participated in an athletics event.

A study shows that when University of Oregon’s football team was winning, students celebrated more and the average GPA gradually declined. Developing a more popular athletic program may damage PSU’s academic progress and goals. Regardless, in order to recruit better athletes, increase revenue and improve facilities for athletics, more money that PSU doesn’t have will be required.

Despite plans for the Viking Pavilion, PSU will still be constrained by facilities. There’s only one field on campus: the Peter W. Stott field. Students can’t play soccer or Ultimate Frisbee whenever they choose because the Peter W. Stott field is often reserved for practices and club sports. For example, the football and softball teams practice on the same field, even though there isn’t a softball diamond. Having only one field to meet the demands of all campus activities proves that PSU wasn’t prepared for a large athletics program. PSU’s campus can feasibly only grow vertically. How can an athletics program sustain or improve with such constraints?

A large reason why PSU has an athletics program is because it’s utilized as a marketing tool. Yet, developing national recognition for PSU’s brand doesn’t have to incorporate an athletics program. Funding for a program that most other large universities have as well doesn’t uniquely market PSU. The university sets itself apart from all of the other Oregon universities for one reason alone: the city of Portland. Students attend PSU to integrate into the city more than the campus. PSU could benefit by marketing itself as a university that’s focused toward a student’s academic success and intellectual stimulation through engagement with the city.

Athletics does provide opportunities for those who only make it to college because of athletic scholarships. Without sports, many would never consider college an option at all. Still, I find it problematic that people assume lower-income backgrounds and minorities have to “kick a ball” to get into college. If PSU is actually concerned about this issue, they could always choose to compensate the lack of scholarships they give through athletics by allocating funds to offer merit-based scholarships strictly to minority groups. If PSU athletics is committed to equal opportunity, then shouldn’t they recruit whoever is the best athlete available and ignore demographics anyway? Sure, athletics provides opportunities for historically oppressed communities. However, isn’t the actual intention of the athletic program to win more games, generate more attention and make more money for PSU?

Overall, preventing raises in tuition and sustaining opportunities for academic areas at PSU to flourish is more of a priority than athletics. If PSU’s administration truly values strengthening the futures of the majority of students, defunding athletics would serve as an effective method to handling this budget shortfall. To those who disagree with me, please note that I’m solely trying to make a better PSU for future students before I graduate.

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