At least every few months, the Intercollegiate Athletics (IA) enterprise at my school gives us something new to be ashamed of. This fall, it’s the opening of a new aquatic center, for about 120 letter athletes only, that commits a whole catalog of the typical sins of that firm [sic: it has it’s own .com website], and the injuries it inflicts on the university.
To start with, it’s in the wrong place, a large lot on a corner close to downtown that badly needs street activation, across the street from land uses (a track stadium and the existing aquatic center) that also don’t generate any foot traffic. The city fathers are furious that the university used this valuable lot for something that could have gone anywhere. For more on the location mistake, see Sam Davis’ takedown.
It has been touted, at a time when the cost of the IA program is attracting serious criticism, as being completely funded (about $15m) by the generous donors, and here we confront one of the most persistent qualities of IA, which is its insouciant, arrogant, mendacity, especially about money. A building like this needs to be cleaned, heated, repaired and maintained. It is actually rather expensive to keep a great big pool of water warm enough to swim in, outdoors in the climate of the Bay Area, and there are light bulbs to change, etc. A rule of thumb some institutions use for planning this is that maintaining a building requires an endowment approximately equal to the cost of the building itself. At 5% return on such an endowment, the new pool will cost the campus about $750K per year to keep the lights on and the doors open, or about four full professors. Those light bulbs and gas bills will be paid for with real money. You might think IA would pay for this, but that operation is already costing us about $30m a year in net subsidy, so even the part they might pay for directly just comes right back to the campus.
Completely funded by the donors? Let’s look at this again:
Donors gift (thank you) $7.5m
State and federal funds* 7.5m
Campus gift of land (10m)
Operation and maintenance (15m)
Total net ( $10m)
So “completely funded” actually means “paid less than a fifth of the cost, reached into our pocket and the taxpayers’ for about $17.5 million, and put a $750k/year tapeworm in our lunch.” Talk about leverage! Don’t you wish you could muscle your public agencies to house your hobbies at better than 5:1?
Just to add insult to injury, IA is going to give about a third of their exclusive time at our existing pool back to the other 40,000 citizens of the university for recreational use and physical education.
*the gift is a charitable deduction against state and federal income, and the donors are certainly in top brackets.