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A New, Empty Stadium

December 1, 2010

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The University of Akron opened its $61.6 million on-campus football stadium last year, replacing a decrepit venue, far from campus, that was built in 1940 with help from the Depression-era Civil Works Administration. And though most at Akron have welcomed the new facility, saying it has helped the university further shed its “commuter school” reputation and develop more of a campus culture, there is one problem: the matter of paying for it.

The Zips, as Akron’s athletic teams are nicknamed, finished with a 1-11 record in football this year. Last year, during the new stadium’s inaugural season, the team finished with a slightly better 3-9 record. And though the novelty of having a new stadium spurred ticket sales last year, this year Akron’s athletics department did not generate the ticket revenue it expected to help pay down the university’s debt for the stadium’s construction.

The stadium seats 30,000 fans. This season, however, an average of 10,184 fans went to the six home games. The largest crowd was the opener against Syracuse University, with 15,965 fans, and the smallest crowd was last week's closer against the University at Buffalo, with only 5,216 fans. This year's average attendance is significantly down from last year's 17,382. Last year's average attendance beat the average for the 15,317 Mid-American Conference, of which Akron is a member.

Akron’s annual debt payment for the bonds that financed InfoCision Stadium-Summa Field is $4.3 million, according to Brian Davis, the university’s interim assistant vice president for finance and administration. He noted that the athletics department is responsible for $2.2 million of this payment. Davis said the department expected half of this to come from ticket sales, but that the actual ticket sale revenue this season is projected to be about $400,000 short.

To resolve this shortfall, Davis said, the athletics department will be forced to internally reallocate funds within its $24.4 million budget. Though the shortfall is relatively small and funds will not have to be taken from outside of the athletics budget to resolve it, Davis admitted that “you never want to come up short.” Moreover, 71 percent of the department’s budget is funded by a general service fee assessed to all students.

Davis noted, however, that the institution went into the construction of the new stadium expecting that the athletics department might not be able to meet its portion of the debt payment through ticket sales alone, at least for the first few years.

“We went into this with ‘eyes wide open,’” Davis wrote in an e-mail. “An on-campus stadium adds an intrinsic value to the college experience. This fact, in addition to engineering analyses and estimates indicating the costs to repair the aging existing stadium [the Rubber Bowl] approached the cost of construction a new on-campus stadium, support the cost efficiency of the decision to build new.”

Gregg Bach, athletics department spokesman, said that his department’s estimates for ticket sales this year were “conservative” in nature. It was difficult, he said, to set benchmarks from only one prior year of history in a new stadium.

“We had a first-year coach, and we also weren’t as competitive on the field as we’d hoped for,” Bach said. “That resulted in lower ticket sales and lower ticket revenue. That’s disappointing to all of us. But, when we look two, three and four years down the road to where we think the program will go, we think we’ll make our revenue goals and hopefully set off some of the losses we’re seeing now.”

Bach said that the athletics department “was not scrambling” to find ways to resolve the shortfall, adding that he and his colleagues are mulling a number of options right now -- long before the budget year is slated to end -- to trim enough to meet it. He also said the department is already thinking about how much revenue it should expect from football ticket sales next year.

Because of the relatively small size of the shortfall and the fact that that athletics department will not have to seek funds from outside its budget to meet it, athletics watchdogs amid the faculty ranks are reserved.

J. Dean Carro, the program’s faculty athletics representative since 2002 and professor at Akron’s School of Law, said there was no question in his mind that the university needed to either spend a significant chunk of money to rehab the old stadium or build a new one. In fact, he recalled that many seasons ago, one portion of the Rubber Bowl had to be closed to fans because there were concerns about its support system.

“I was cautious,” Carro said of his initial support for the new stadium. “We all recognized there was going to be a lot of debt, but we thought we’d be able to carry it.… Still, we can’t give the stadium back now. The stadium is here, and we’re going to use it.”

The new stadium does have a number of intangible benefits, Carro said, noting that it has brought many long-lost alumni back to the institution and given it a residential campus feel. He also said that the city and neighboring community will be able to make use of the facility.

“If I knew what I knew today [about the ticket sale shortfall], would I still support the new stadium?” Carro said. “I’m not sure. Still, I think most people realize that we had to make a bold move as an institution. Honestly, time will tell whether it was a good move or a bad move.”

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Comments on A New, Empty Stadium

  • Intrinsic value?
  • Posted by Sandy Thatcher on December 1, 2010 at 3:45pm UTC
  • This may be the first time I've heard a football stadium referred to as "an intrinsic value" for the college experience. With that kind of thinking, it appears that the option of ceasing to have a football team was never considered. With 71% of the Athletic Department's budget coming from student fees, did anyone think to consult the students about this? It appears that they have been voting with their feet anyway, not attending the games in very large numbers. So, it seems, students are being asked to pay the price for whose entertainment exactly?---Sandy Thatcher
  • Bad Math on the part of Administrators
  • Posted by Dwaine Plaza , Associate Professor Sociology at Oregon State Univesrity on December 1, 2010 at 9:30pm UTC
  • What amazes me about football stadiums across the country is that they are a revenue vacuum on student fees. Few people seem to know that most college football stadiums across the country are used at the most 10 times per year (there are approximately 355 days left in the year where you have to heat and maintain the structure). Stadiums on college campuses are rarely rented out to the public because few promoters have events big enough to afford the cost. In order for the stadium to break even then it has to be sold out for every football game and have additional days where they sell out to outside promoters. Consistently selling out is only going to happen for the rare football programs where the team is ranked in the the top 25. What about the other few hundred programs across the country who are below top 25?

    Do the math administrators-- football and basketball stadiums on college campuses in general do not pay for themselves. They require a chunk of subsidies right from the students pockets. Many students don't understand what their fees are being used to subsidize or who really benefits from their contribution to the "beer and circus" culture on their campus. If they did, some might demand that administrations pay back their money for the "party" they have unwittingly been hosting on their campus.
  • Best Piece Ever Written on this Website
  • Posted by bevo on December 1, 2010 at 11:15pm UTC
  • David Moltz should be commended for this story of building project gone wrong. He wrote the best story in the history of Inside Higher Education because his story reflects everything that is wrong with the higher education industry in America.

    Faculty
    A piece about an anthropology association's muddled and misguided statement about the relationship between science and the group's discipline garnered 14 comments at one point and this story managed one comment (not including this long, angry comment). Fourteen people thought the AAA's inability to understand and discuss philosophy of science was worthy of opinion. Yet, the faculty who read this site could not muster an iota of outrage over the mismanagement and incompetence displayed at Akron.

    Why does the administration walk all over the faculty like rugs? Because we let them and the proof is the lack of comments on this story.

    Why do the faculty tolerate the nonsense and stench that emanate from the athletics department? The athletics department does not serve the mission of the institution. It is nothing more than a black hole of money and people. Shut it down now.

    All faculty representatives should resign now. No one should agree to fill this useless position, which as the CHE pointed out is comprised of faculty whose ethics were checked at the door.

    Stop giving make up assignments and allow missed classes. The faculty set the attendance policy. Enforce it. Tell those great wastes of productivity to shove it when they ask about attendance policy. The classroom belongs to us; the faculty. Own it. Stop letting others dictate our policy.

    Every day, the faculty senate should pass a resolution demanding the elimination of those cheating houses known as the academic support centers. How many scandals involving fraud should we tolerate? Minnesota? Tennessee? North Carolina? Texas Tech? Marshall? All of these places have problems with fraud that stem from the academic support center. Shut it down and fire everyone connected to the departments who continuously and systematically destroy the institution’s value.

    At 4 p.m. everyday, a rally should be held outside of the president's office demanding that weeknight contests be eliminated. Every day. Cancel all service engagements. Refuse to show up for them. Take a bullhorn and exercise your Constitutional rights of assembly and speech. There is no educational reason for contents to take place Sunday night through Friday afternoon. Students belong in the classroom; not on a minibus.

    Government Officials
    In Ohio, the state faces an $8 billion deficit. The mind staggers at the number. In the most recent election, neither gubernatorial candidate addressed the issue. All media outlets include the state's three largest newspapers allowed them to duck the issue. The recently elected governor appears content to follow his predecessor's approach of slowly bleeding the higher education system dry including Akron.

    Today, Akron has the money to pay for the building debt. Tomorrow? Extremely doubtful.

    Nearly four years ago, the now-former governor of Ohio appointed a blue ribbon (yes, really, a blue ribbon) committee. Their report concluded there are too many colleges in Ohio. They did recognize that no elected official offered any form of leadership to actually deal with that issue.

    Budget problems have become so severe in Louisiana that the governor has asked for plans to close campuses. Texas faces a $25 billion budget gap, which probably cannot be closed through secession from the Union.

    What elected official has asked or demanded that a university reduce or eliminate its athletics program? These same officials demand the university be run like a business. They have no problem demanding that mission critical departments like philosophy or foreign language be reduced or eliminated. Yet, non-mission critical departments such as athletics are not only spared, they get more resources.

    This action is simply bad business. These officials who demand the university function like a (for-profit) business are simply pouring good money after bad by continuing to fund athletics departments.

    Higher Education Administrators
    Is there simply a more incompetent lot than this group? Look at San Jose State. Classes remain full, which means revenues are optimized. The number of tenure track faculty continues to decline. As senior faculty leave, non-tenure faculty replaces them. Thus, expenses are declining.

    Revenue is up; expenses are down. SJSU continues to face a budget gap. Why is no one asking why the women's volleyball team or the men's basketball team has to travel to Ruston, LA, to play a game? The school is going broke slowly but surely, but no SJSU administrator has said the school cannot afford athletics.

    This incompetence is being conducted at nearly every American college because the athletics department like the philosophy department runs a deficit. The philosophy department has been gutted but not the athletics department.

    Why do higher education administrators continue to behave in this fashion?

    This same group thinks nothing of paying millions for what amounts to a part-time employee. How much does Akron spend on the football coach? How many Philosophy or History tenure track faculty members could be hired with the money saved by eliminating the football team? Four? Six?

    Unlike the coaches, the faculty are mission critical and work full time.

    Taxation without Representation
    Finally, we get to the last problem. As the article notes, without a tax on students, the Akron athletics department could not exist. Students are not given a voice in this decision or they are ignored like the vote at North Texas.

    It could be argued that all fees support non-mission critical functions including the IT department and the athletics department.

    The faculty senate should demand that students support the athletics department in a similar fashion as they support Parking & Transportation department. P&T usually gets its money only when students buy a parking tag.

    Similarly, the athletics department should only get money from students when they buy a ticket to that event. No more ticket packets that include tickets those students rarely if ever use. No more taxes.

    Conclusion
    SUNY Albany gutted its foreign language department because it needs to deal with a budget crunch. Despite the charges and countercharges over the decision, how come no one asked where Albany found the money to pay for the football team to travel to Nacogdoches, TX, for a game? How come the athletics department was not eliminated or re-classified to Division III?

    The faculty must rescue the institution from (higher education administrators) incompetence and lack of (government officials) mismanagement. Following Moltz's article, the athletics department must be eliminated before it finally ruins the institution. If not, then the parasite will surely kill its host.
  • Great, or not so great?
  • Posted by Brian Gould , student at Schoolcraft College on December 7, 2010 at 9:15am UTC
  • I think it is great that Akron finally built an on-campus stadium, granted the team is not the greatest, but the presences of it just adds to life on campus, there is only two down falls in building the stadium, on is that very few people went to the games. And two, they don't have the money to pay for it.