It’s all priorities

It is a simple matter of priorities. According to Brian Wiencek’s column on the sports page of Wednesday’s The Northern Star, NIU’s “academics are not suffering. Athletics are.” This, unfortunately, is not the case. If Brian would have turned the paper over, he might have seen that NIU is prioritizing academic programs to determine which ones to keep and which ones to cut. Not surprisingly, the purse-strings of the athletic department have also been curtailed, and the result is a proposal to the President’s Fee Study Commission asking that student fees be raised to cover the losses. Last Sunday, the NIU Student Association passed a resolution opposing the athletic fee increase. As the resolution stated, “Budget cuts at the state level have affected academics—athletics should not be excluded.”

Right now students at this school are sending $4.48 to the athletic department for each hour of classes they take. The proposed fee increase would double the athletic department’s dependency on student fees and would cost the students an additional $4.01 per hour by the time the phase-in was completed.

The fact is, Northern Illinois University will never become an athletic power house. It is possible for a college to gain a good academic reputation without even having an athletic department, but it is impossible for a school to gain a good athletic reputation without obtaining a strong academic reputation first. If you think of schools with successful athletic departments (Notre Dame, Duke, Georgetown, Michigan, even U of I), you will notice these are schools that provide a high quality education. For several reasons, academic quality is the mandatory prerequisite for athletic prowess. First, no high school athlete is going to want to attend a college where he knows that he will be unable to schedule a full load of classes. And just as importantly, schools such as NIU are less likely to attract corporate sponsorship, because corporations are in the recruiting business and can find better qualified job applicants at universities with top academic programs.

No one really wants to see NIU become a Division III school, but then again, I haven’t talked to anyone who wants to pay twice the price to fund Huskie Athletics. Hopefully, the administration and the athletic department will be able to find some middle ground. At last Sunday’s S.A. meeting, Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell said that in five years, the athletic department hoped to move from being 25 percent self-sufficient to 65 percent self-sufficient. But at the same time, O’Dell wants to become 80 percent dependent on student fees. I’m not a math major, but I know that 65 and 80 don’t add up to 100. If the A.D. really thought that the department could pay for 65 percent of its own expenses, no one would be asking us for led student fees. And if it turns out the department can’t reach this level of self-sufficiency, the students of NIU will be in for another increase in a few more years.

There are many reasons students come to school at NIU, but, contrary to what Brian Wiencek would have you believe, the deciding factor for most is not NIU’s outstanding athletic department. In fact, I chose Northern over the University of Illinois because I pay for school myself, and NIU was a little cheaper. It was simply a matter of priorities.