CINCINNATI — There were no big surprises Tuesday when University of Cincinnati administrators approved a contract extension that will make Luke Fickell one of the Big 12’s highest-paid coaches when UC joins the Power Conference. Five in 2024.
After all, Fickell led the Bearcats through a spellbinding 13-1 season that energized the community and left him with just six wins before becoming UC’s winningest football coach. But UC’s faculty senate chairman was surprised that before the unanimous vote, no one discussed the financial ramifications of a contract that will add $23 million in fixed costs to a program that needed a grant of $27 million to make ends meet in fiscal year 2021. year.
“UC board meetings are not known for in-depth discussion of these issues. It usually happens behind closed doors,” said Gregory Loving, a philosophy professor at UC Clermont College. “But given it was such a lucrative new contract, I would have expected a bit more attention to the money involved.”
That’s why Loving, in his remarks to the board, urged trustees to take the same approach with faculty as they did with Fickell. Loving said UC ranks 8and among the 12 schools it will compete against at its next athletic conference for average teacher salary. According to his research, UC’s average of $94,600 is 15% lower than Texas Christian University and 9% above the last state of Oklahoma.
“We certainly don’t shy away from athletics,” Loving told the WCPO 9 I-Team after the meeting. “They did a great job and we understand the market forces here. However, when we use the argument that we need to reward excellence and compete with our peers, I’m just asking that the university use that argument consistently for faculty and staff, who really do the groundwork of the university.
The I-Team has examined the financial situation of UC’s athletic programs, as its rise to the top of NCAA football has been accompanied by an increase in grants that divert funds from academic pursuits and cost students approximately $1,200 per year in tuition and fees.
“The professors and academic staff raising this issue are right,” said former UC president Santa Ono. “The mission of an institution is really teaching, research and innovation.”
But Ono, who left UC in 2016 to become president of the University of British Columbia, defended UC’s use of athletic grants to “win the conference realignment contest.” He said UC needs to invest heavily in sports so it can join an elite conference with national media deals that allow a handful of programs to break even in sports.
“If you’re going to have a sports program, you have to be willing to invest in it,” Ono said. “And if you really want to address this structural deficit, you have to be in the Power Five.”
This debate is not new. In 2009, an all-university athletics task force faced these same issues as UC rose to prominence in the Big East Conference. Its final report said UC athletic programs were losing $3.5 million a year and had accumulated a “structural deficit of $24 million”.
The panel recommended “a series of revenue-generating ideas that can be implemented to meet the annual shortfall…and repay the total shortfall.” Since then, UC has racked up an additional $226 million in sports operating deficits — and covered those losses with $290 million in direct and indirect university grants, according to an I-Team analysis of annual sports reports. memberships that UC sends to the NCAA.
“Even in the best of times, we’ll never get this back,” Loving said. “And no investment adviser in the world would suggest such an investment.”
Loving expects the American Association of College Professors to raise the issue of athletic grants in upcoming contract negotiations with the university.
“The administration will say, ‘We don’t have the money to do this.’ But when they are clearly spending it in other areas, they clearly have money. They don’t make it a priority to support the faculty in this way,” he said.
Athletic director John Cunningham told the I-Team in December that UC would reduce its dependence on grants when it joins the Big 12. Like other Power Five conferences, it has richer television contracts which, according to experts, will bring in around $20 million more in annual media revenue. that UC is currently receiving.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Cunningham told administrators that Fickell had improved the financial outlook for UC sports in the 2022 fiscal year, which ends June 30.
“Football ticket sales are at an all-time high,” he said. UC also achieved “record fundraising for athletics in the first half of the fundraising year” and added a thousand new donors in the past year.
UC has raised about 25% of its $100 million goal for the ‘Day One Ready’ campaign, which aims to prepare for Big 12 competition by building an indoor training facility and implementing new programs wellness and nutrition for its athletes.
“In addition to the significant donations we’ve received,” Cunningham said, “we’ve grown from 5,800 donors to 6,800 donors in one year.”
But expenses are also increasing.
The new indoor training facility costs $70 million, according to UC tender documents. Cunningham hopes donations will cover the cost, but that’s not how it worked in the last three building projects for Athletics. In 2013, for example, UC borrowed $91 million to fund the $86 million expansion of Nippert Stadium, in a deal that was expected to cost $184.4 million over 27 years, including interest.
Fickell’s new contract extension raises his annual salary from $1.6 million a year to $5 million and increases assistant coach funding to $5.2 million from $3.85 million. That’s a 22% increase for an athletics program that spent $12.8 million on coaching compensation in fiscal year 2021.
For Professor Loving, that’s reason enough to slow down.
“Athletics is a big part of college life,” Loving said. “This provides many opportunities for students, faculty and staff. It’s a boon for the community. But we just need a reasonable approach to this investment.
“The biggest mistake Cincinnati could make is get into the Power Five and not fund it at the Power Five level,” he said. “Paying Luke $5 million makes him one of the highest paid coaches in the Big 12 and Power Five. It’ll keep it there. Look at the transformation that has happened in Bearcats football because you have Luke Fickell. You want to back him up with a coaching staff that will be top notch.
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