As you may know, our athletics program has been facing financial challenges that have grown in recent years for a number of reasons – including enrollment declines affecting the athletics fee and state budget challenges.
We are not alone: very few athletics programs across the country are self-supporting.
Since arriving in August, I have been closely looking at the very challenging and complex financial situation facing Saluki athletics. The deficit has greatly increased over the last five years, and answers to stemming the tide are difficult to find.
The bottom line is the funding model is not sustainable. The university must take an in-depth review of Saluki athletics to create a plan that will first lead to realizing a balanced budget on an annual basis and then address the significant long-term deficit position while maintaining our position as a competitive NCAA Division I program.
The value of athletics
Even as we study athletics finances, we must remain aware that our student athletes excel in the classroom while adding vibrancy and excitement to our campus life. Intercollegiate athletics at a comprehensive research institution like SIU Carbondale is a critical component of our community engagement and an attraction for students.
Athletics generates spirit, pride and loyalty among our students, alumni and community.
Athletics provides a window into SIU for people who would not be engaged with us otherwise. It creates awareness that extends beyond sports and provides a platform to talk about who we are as an academic institution.
Athletics helps attract visitors who support the local economy – hotels, restaurants and more. Athletics fans from near and far support the vitality of our community and region.
The Saluki experience
Much like the arts and other cultural activities, athletics contributes to the entire Saluki experience. It’s part of who we are as a university.
Athletics recruits good students to be part of that experience for all students. The academic success of our student athletes — which exceeds that of the overall student body in terms of both grade-point-average and graduation rates — contributes to the overall academic reputation of the university.
Athletics also generates financial support, sometimes for the campus as a whole, as when donors support both athletics and academics, and sometimes to support specific opportunities for student athletes.
Following up on a recent gift by alumnus Tilden Parks, we will soon be announcing a major donation from another long-time athletics fan who wants to help students succeed.
Support our student athletes
In a recent blog post, I encouraged attendance as our basketball teams close out the season and head to the Missouri Valley Conference championship. I repeat this request here: our student athletes, like all of our students, deserve our support.
Meanwhile, I am working diligently to develop a sustainable funding model that supports our NCAA Division I programs as we work together to progressively advance the entirety of our extraordinary institution.