No input for Big East change is foul move

by Brody Burns

antonio zaragoza, photo editor
Antonio Zaragoza, Photo Editor

The incredibly volatile landscape of intercollegiate athletics recently reverberated across Montezuma Mesa. Last week, reports surfaced that the San Diego State athletics department intends to become bi-coastal through two stunning conference moves.

Football is leaving the Mountain West Conference in order to become a member of the Big East Conference in fall 2013. Other sports, however, will remain local and likely find a new home in the Big West Conference. As appealing as debating the effectiveness of the “big w-east” move is, something plenty of pundits will likely do, the intent of this column lies elsewhere.

A fundamental travesty occurred in the process of this move, a key stakeholder group was not consulted in the process of making a decision: Where was the student input?

According to KPBS, SDSU President Elliot Hirshman said “people both inside and outside the university got a chance to weigh in.” From that admission, one could reason the president’s office and the athletics department and other outside parties were heavily involved in reaching the multi-move decision, but what about the university’s students? Were the students provided their own capacity to respond or their own “chance to weigh in”?

Students are the essence of this university. They are also a considerable financial foundation of the athletic department. Wouldn’t a student referendum have accurately gauged the student body’s opinion on such a move? Moreover, wouldn’t involving this key stakeholder have legitimized the move overall?

Consider this move from a business perspective. In a financial exchange, when a person pays for something, he or she is assuming a piece of ownership of said item. With this consideration, the collective student body at SDSU is the primary investing group in the athletics department. Regardless of one’s athletic fervor, each SDSU student who contributed $175 to the Instructionally Related Activity Fees this fall owns a piece of the athletic department. Even if this money were to be thought of as charitable giving on the student’s part (which would make for some interesting public relations questioning of the athletics department on the legitimacy of the fees), then the donation would have to be reviewed by some emissaries of the student body.

Charities have boards of directors, and other mechanisms of review to ensure the finances are applied in an effective manner. If one is to assume a select group of students were secretly involved in the decision-making process, then how is this fair to every other fee-paying member of the student body?

Contrary to other claims, the City of San Diego, the athletics’ boosters, Aztec fans, former athletes or current employees in the athletics department are all considerably less financially connected to the athletic department than the student body is. We as a student body provide more funds to athletics than any other source of revenue.

According to USA Today, for the 2009 academic year, the operating revenue for the athletics department was moe than $32 million. Student fees accounted for more than $10 million, or 31 percent of this total operating revenue. The next largest source of revenue was direct institutional support, which totaled around $6 million, or almost 19 percent. Contributions, an oft cited source of funding, only totaled more than $3 million or around 9 percent.

If one assumes the boosters were involved in the decision-making process, something not altogether implausible, then why would a group that only accounts for 9 percent of the total investment receive more consideration than the whole of the student body? Are we to be deemed silent in the entire process, a higher power adjudicating the student body to be an ATM, merely a source of funding incapable of input? If that is the case, I’d like to petition for a full refund of my Instructionally Related Activity Fee.

To revert to the business world, an investment option that accounted for 30 percent ownership with no voting power would be deemed a terrible investment. Think of it as investing in a Chipotle restaurant with a group of friends (the students of SDSU) and hiring a manager to run the restaurant (the athletics department). Only after making a visit to your restaurant do you find the manager has implemented some hasty change and began selling pizza instead of burritos — something decidedly unChipotle-like.

Pizza may be a good realignment idea, potentially bringing in more revenue and perhaps appealing to a broader clientele, but those investors should be consulted in the decision-making process.

That business strategy also applies to the students of this university. College students are often cited as the group that benefits most from the athletics department’s moves, but in reality isn’t it the other way around? Students contribute incredible sums of money to subsidize the department, provide a passionate fan base and, through time, remain connected as a financial resource in the form of an alumni base.

An emerging trend in collegiate athletics is that public institutions are becoming increasingly reliant upon student fees as a significant source for funding of athletic

departments:

“More than half of athletic departments at public schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision were

subsidized by at least 26 percent

last year.”

This is not a critique of the intent, the move or the ambitions of the athletics department. My problem is with the decision-making process. Maybe I am operating in an ideal world and the practicality of involving the student body would be cumbersome, yet relying upon this excuse would vindicate any administrative body for continually excluding its student body in

major decisions.

Higher education inspires, empowers and creates viability of an ideal decision-making process, one where a variety of perspectives would be actively involved, especially from such a vital group of stakeholders that stand to benefit or suffer in terms of student fees.

Here’s the bottom line, athletics department: If we’re cutting you a check, don’t leave us stranded on the bench.

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