Staff Photo by Tim Barber UTC football Mocs play the Phoenix of Elon (NC)
A row of feet were being tightly wrapped by athletic trainers when Nicchaeus Doaks, decked out in head-to-toe Mocs paraphernalia, slid onto a table to get his ankles taped up for practice.
Mr. Doaks, a senior who came to UTC from Trenton, Tenn., on a full-tuition basketball scholarship, had the confident swagger of a performer.
“I didn’t have to pay for anything,” he said. “If it wasn’t for UTC basketball I would be sitting in Trenton right now.”
Mr. Doaks, and all other scholarship student athletes at UTC, have benefited from university dollars that fund sports programs.
Yet UTC sports is contributing only 24 percent of its nearly $9 million budget, and some say that, in a time when the state is slashing millions in support, athletic programs should be the first to be examined when officials consider budget cuts.
Football has a losing record, no coach, declining game attendance and mounting financial losses, and some believe UTC should re-examine its investment in that program. Football costs UTC $2.8 million a year but generates only $710,366 in revenue, according to budget documents.
Since the beginning of this year, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has had to trim $4.1 million from its budget and is preparing to cut another $6.3 million.
UTC MID-YEAR BUDGET REDUCTIONS
Chancellors Office — $7,566
University Advancement — $40,873
Student Development — $106,562
University Athletics — $60,000
Finance and Operations — $505,739
Academic Affairs — $777,606
Source: Budget documents
The athletics department absorbed $60,000 of those cuts after midyear reductions, while academic affairs lost a total of $777,606.
Rick Hart, athletic director at UTC, said the loss in funding mainly will affect travel and recruiting efforts.
“Yes, we are concerned,” Mr. Hart said. “But we are resilient. We have been through this, and we know we will survive it.”
This year’s cuts were triggered by falling state sales tax revenue, and Gov. Phil Bredesen has said higher education officials can expect another round of cuts. Many schools are preparing to decrease their budgets by up to 15 percent.
As UTC and UT system officials navigate one of the most challenging fiscal years ever, many programs and services are being scrutinized, including academic programs, the Cadek Conservatory of Music and the UTC Challenger Center.
Some UT programs, such as the audiology and speech pathology department and the dance program, already have been cut.
Like other programs, athletics may be cut further once the governor’s budget is announced in February, and some faculty and students say sports teams and athletic expenses should be cut before academics.
“There is one thing we all agree upon,” said Dr. Pedro Campa, faculty senate president at UTC. “We don’t believe that the academic program should suffer any cuts until athletics is cut.”
While programs such as football are important to some students and alumni, Dr. Campa said the core mission of the university is to educate, not provide sporting opportunities.
“It gets down to a philosophical question,” he said. “What is a university for? What is the main function? The main function is to fulfill its academic mission.”
Joshua Scott, a senior majoring in business at UTC, agreed.
Mr. Scott said he never has been to a sporting event in his four years at the university. In his opinion academics should take priority over losing sports teams such as football.
“If we were winning I would go to the games,” he said of the football program and its 12-33 record in the last four years. “It’s not fun to watch your team lose time and time again. ... College is about academics not athletics.”
In 2008, the UTC football team had the lowest average home game attendance in the Southern Conference.
The school’s average game attendance of 5,767 this year was down 8 percent from last year and was the second lowest recorded average attendance since Finley Stadium was built in 1997 to seat 20,688 people, according to UTC athletics Web sites.
In the nearly 10 years since Finley Stadium has been open, average attendance has dropped by more than half, according to the UTC athletics department.
Yet, regardless of low attendance and poor ticket sales for some sports, athletic officials said sports add a lot to the university experience and that the department has made strides to increase revenue.
This fiscal year, 70.9 percent of athletics funding came from the university, but that number has been decreasing, said Matthew Pope, associate athletic director at UTC.
Three years ago, university support provided for 79 percent of its athletics revenue. As institutional funding has dropped, athletics ticket sales and marketing efforts have jumped by nearly 10 percent in the last three years, he said.
Gifts were 5 percent of revenue this year. Around $30,000 in capital funds was used to renovate and expand athletic offices, buy new furniture and place three flat-screen televisions — priced at $400 apiece — in the directors’ offices and conference room, Mr. Pope said.
Few university athletic programs in the nation are self-sustaining, but colleges and universities continue to support programs financially because of the value they add to a campus, he said.
“It gets under my skin when faculty jumps on the bandwagon and says, ‘Yah, cut ’em,’” he said. “Every year someone brings this up. ... We want to be financially viable. We would love to be like Knoxville, where we can stand on our own two legs, but most programs our size are not.”
Out of 1,100 athletic programs in the country only 19 are profitable, including UT, said Daniel Fulks, a research consultant for the NCAA.
The average amount of institutional support is about 70 percent, which is true of UTC athletics, Dr. Fulks said. However, UTC’s cost for football is higher than the other 118 schools in its division, he said.
Football expenses at UTC are more than $900,000 over the average of $1.9 million among Football Championship Subdivision schools, Dr. Fulks said.
Dr. Fulks said he does not believe schools like UTC will cut football, regardless of the price.
“A visible successful athletic program brings in more students, more applications, better diversity and entrance exam scores,” Dr. Fulks said. “There is a value to athletics you can’t put a number on.”
Mr. Hart said the athletic department is planning to cut up to 15 percent from its budget, but it is too early to say if teams or jobs are at risk.
UTC Chancellor Roger Brown has been supportive of sports programs, and Mr. Hart said he expects that to continue.
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...