The coronavirus pandemic is making colleges and universities implement budget cuts, and that includes spending reductions for sports. Both Kent State and Akron have announced 20% cuts to their athletic budgets for the next fiscal year. That’s on top of half the money they were expecting from the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, which was canceled.
WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto has long argued that Mid-American Conference schools need to consider dropping out of Division I football, and he hopes those decisions may be coming to a head.
Big budgets and salaries
Pluto says the only schools that should be playing Division I football are the powerhouses that make money to fund their programs, like Ohio State, Alabama and LSU. For most other schools, playing at that level means running a deficit to keep it going.
"A football budget for most of these schools runs between $4 million and $6 million a year. The average attendance in the Mid-American Conference, they claim, is 15,000 a game for football. You look around and there are 5,000 in the seats. And lots of those are students who were admitted for free."
And Pluto says salaries add up, too. He says the University of Akron's Tom Arth and Kent State's Sean Lewis each make about $500,000 a year, which is among the lowest in the Mid-American Conference. "But when you factor in the money you pay all of their assistants and you put the head coach's salary in with theirs, they're both around $1.5 million in salaries alone."
The issue of scholarships
Division I football awards 85 full scholarships. "You're not even talking about equipment and travel and everything else," Pluto said. "Most of these schools, they're financing their athletic departments with student fees to a tune of 70%."
Pluto says the simple answer is to bow out of Division I football. "Dayton was ranked in the top 25 (in basketball) this year, and they are playing football in a thing called the Pioneer League, which is non-scholarship. So now what you have is kind of like Division III level, you've got students paying to play, literally."
ESPN and exposure
Pluto says the Mid-American Conference touts its deal with ESPN to broadcast two football games per week. "Each school gets about $850,000 per year from that deal. It helps, but maybe it pays for about half of your football coach's salaries."
Pluto says MAC schools support their budgets by playing in so-called "money games."
"This past year, Kent State went to Auburn, Wisconsin and Arizona State. They made about $4.5 million playing those three schools. They lost by grand total of 133-23. Physically, they just get pounded. This year, Kent State is doing something like that again."
Pluto says another reason schools give for competing in Division I football is that it gives them exposure. "You'd be better off taking all of that money and buying eight zillion, million dollars in advertising everywhere," Pluto said.
And Pluto believes more money should instead be invested in the sports that have seen national success. "Not just basketball but soccer and track at Akron, and baseball and golf at Kent State," he said.
"They have to ask tougher questions now and sometimes you have to humble yourself and say, 'What really did football do for the MAC?' And I'm tired of hearing about all this exposure it gives them. I just don't see it for the price."