High Cost, No Success May Push Eastern Michigan Out of Division I Sports

(Photo: Kenneth Bailey, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Kenneth Bailey, Creative Commons)

A new report by students and faculty of Eastern Michigan University (EMU) recommends that the school should drop out of Division I football and find a different league for its other sports to save students money.

EMU, like most universities, does not make enough money from athletics to cover all its costs. The school sends the athletics department a subsidy from its general fund, which is comprised of money from state aid and student tuition. The study was commissioned and conducted by faculty members and the school's student government. The 30-page report analyzes the budget of the university.

The report found that each student at EMU pays $917 out of pocket to support the institution's athletics. According to David Jesse of The Detroit Free Press, in the 2014 – 2015 school year the school spent $33.9 million on its athletics department. Of that, 80% came from institutional support, the highest percentage of the Mid-American Conference. Furthermore, the school's spending on athletics has increased by 65% over the past ten years, from $20 million in 2005 to $33 million in 2015.

"Culturally and geographically, EMU football will simply never succeed from an attendance and financial standpoint," says a faculty member, Howard Bunsis. "It is a losing proposition – always has been, always will be. We hardly raise any money for football, and our attendance is the lowest in the country. Some of you believe that we are close to succeeding, if we just throw more money at the situation. This proposition is insane."

Last week, HBO aired a feature on the show "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" which shined a critical light on the funding of the university's athletics department. As reported by Martin Slagter of mLive, the special re-opened an ongoing debate at EMU over its athletic spending. The special was reinforced by a USA Today report that also spotlighted the university's lavish spending on sports.

Some have also endorsed withdrawing form the league because the school, for all the money spent on athletics, has never had a particularly successful football program. EMU has never finished a season ranked in a major poll and has had just one bowl appearance in its history, defeating San Jose State in the 1987 California Bowl. According to Chris Patterson of CBS Sports, the school's football team, The Eagles, has only won more than two games in a season from 2006 – 2015; their record is 15-69 since 2009.

Yet others, including the university's Board of Regents chair Mike Morris, supports maintaining the school's athletic program. Football, he says, is critical to the school's vibrancy.

Bunsis, however, denounced such thinking in no uncertain terms about the necessity of withdrawing from the league. While speaking to the board, he said: "This has nothing to do with our performance on the field, or the quality of our coaches. Our coaches are good people and dedicated professionals. They are fighting a losing battle that cannot be won. Each and every one of you needs to reassess why you are here. If you have any sense of what is right for EMU, you will drop EMU Division I football as soon as possible. How can you sit there and justify throwing millions of dollars away?"

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