UMass varsity teams: a source of student debt or school pride?

It’s irresponsible for UMass to spend our resources this way

By Aidan Byrne, Collegian columnist

Let’s state the obvious here: The University of Massachusetts has never been known for its athletic prowess. Ignoring the basketball team’s (vacated) Final Four appearance 20 years ago, at the best of times, athletics at UMass can be described as average, if not slightly below average, compared to other large state schools in the United States. As a result, it comes as a surprise to no one that our sports teams aren’t the money-printing machines that other universities enjoy, such as the University of Texas at Austin, whose athletic program earned their university $182.1 million in 2017. The sports teams that traditionally bring in substantial amount of revenue to other universities—men’s football, hockey and basketball—have been huge money pits for UMass. Basketball has been the only team out of these three to consistently put together winning seasons within the last decade, but they still aren’t serious contenders for a national title. UMass hockey hasn’t had a winning season since 2006-07, and the football team hasn’t had a winning season since 2010.

Barring a Rick Pitino return to UMass basketball, bringing his questionable Louisville recruiting tactics with him, it seems highly unlikely that any UMass men’s varsity sports team will become a Division I powerhouse in the near future. There is hope for UMass athletics, though. Several UMass club sports teams do have a history of dominance, such as ZooDisc, the men’s ultimate frisbee team. However, ZooDisc athletes don’t get the average $15,342 scholarships that the athletes on our unsuccessful varsity sports teams receive. Being on the ultimate frisbee team is extremely expensive, and all players on the team have to pay their own way in order to play. These costs can exceed $1,500 per season, including airfare, hotel room fees and food costs, as the team competes in many big tournaments across the country during a season. Despite barely any financial support from the University, ZooDisc has consistently produced stellar results, even placing third at the 2017 national championship tournament. To compare, UMass football had a budget of nearly $4.5 million, with $2.3 million being earmarked for scholarships in 2012, and the team produced a disgraceful record of 1-11. In the same year, UMass hockey had a budget of $1.4 million and UMass basketball had a budget of nearly $2.5 million.

The UMass athletics department is well known for its uncanny ability to run on a deficit.”

All of this spending wouldn’t be a big deal if UMass sports teams could generate their own revenue and pay for themselves through avenues such as ticket sales, TV deals or sponsorships. Unfortunately, this is not the case for UMass, as the state of Massachusetts and undergraduate students ultimately have to bear the brunt of the costs for the shortcomings of UMass sports teams. The UMass athletics department is well known for its uncanny ability to run a deficit. Even when UMass athletics does “make revenue,” in reality a large chunk of the revenue traditionally comes from either direct institutional support, which is largely made up of money from student fees or the government. In 2015 the athletic department generated $36.5 million of total revenue, with $16.8 million of this revenue coming from direct institutional support. Out of this $16.8 million, approximately $8.1 million came from student fees that UMass students were forced to pay. Only $1.6 million of revenue was actually contributed from ticket sales.

Who is this money really benefiting other than a handful of student athletes and athletic staff? In my opinion, it’s irresponsible for UMass to spend our resources in this way, as the majority of students couldn’t care less about our terrible sports teams. You could make the argument that having sports teams is essential to the student experience in college and that students take pride in their athletic teams, and if you were talking about most Division I schools, you would be 100 percent correct. However, we are talking about UMass here, which is probably one of the few schools in America where the marching band is the main attraction, and the football team is more of a lackluster opening act at games. You couldn’t pay most tailgaters to actually go in and sit through the full 60 minutes of a football game. The same goes for most basketball and hockey games. Athletic events at UMass are more of an excuse for students to get drunk with their buddies than a source of college pride. University administration should be allocating more resources to teams that are actual sources of school pride, such as the ZooDisc team, or trying to cut the cost of tuition for students. Let’s stop spending so many resources on varsity athletics.

 Aidan Byrne is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]