Committee cuts into athletics to fund faculty, staff raises

By Eric Krol

Athletics will be sharing more of the budget-cutting burden after a change was made at a Friday committee meeting.

NIU President John La Tourette’s committee on Organization, Productivity and Salaries (OPS) met to finalize its dollar figures for a plan which will give all faculty and staff a 4.4 percent salary hike during the next two years. The money will be accumulated through cuts in each of NIU’s divisions.

One part of the plan called for $250,000 to be cut from intercollegiate athletics the first year and an additional $400,000 to be sliced during the second year.

After a lengthy discussion among members, La Tourette agreed to cut $50,000 more during the first year and to review further cuts for the second year of the plan.

The cut came after Richard Brown, OPS member and dean of the College of Business, found another potential source to cut within the athletic department.

“When I look at the balance of pain,” Brown said, “I don’t believe the pain is as great as intercollegiate athletics.”

Brown referred to a part of the athletic funds which Eddie Williams, vice president of Finance and Planning, called a “guarantee account.”

The guarantee account is a revolving reserve of funds which NIU receives from playing away games in sports. It is deposited in the accounts used to provide up-front money for opposing teams who come to play against NIU football and basketball teams.

Brown said because the account had a large balance of about $700,000, more should be chopped from athletics. Williams put the estimate at a more conservative figure and expressed reluctance to remove any funds from the account.

Although football schedules are made a few years in advance, Williams said money must be kept in reserve just in case an opponent cancels a game.

Williams gave an example where Temple University cancelled a game which would have paid NIU $200,000. NIU had to bring in a last-minute opponent and pay the school $100,000, which brought the total swing to $300,000. The reserve fund covered the situation.

“I’m the risk-taker here,” La Tourette said, adding that he did not want to be forced to bail out athletics should unforeseen scheduling problems occur.

However, NIU’s football schedule likely will be more solid during the next few years as a result of a proposed scheduling agreement with the Big West conference.

Athletics also has much more flexibility than the rest of the divisions because it has more sources of income, Brown said. Positions will not be lost as they will in some other divisions, he added.

La Tourette and Williams responded by saying that athletics has hidden cuts, such as increased travel expenses and a declining fee base, which do not affect other areas within the university.

After some debate, La Tourette relented. “Let’s put down $250,000 (the new figure) and declare a victory,” he said.

La Tourette agreed to further cuts if the fund was secure at the end of the first year of the plan. “I’m willing to take about another $75,000 risk,” he said.

Other OPS members shared Brown’s sentiments. SA President Preston Came said that cuts in areas such as Academic and Student Affairs were more important than the risk posed.

“There’s a perception problem with the faculty,” said Accounting Professor Pat Delaney. NIU will have to make choices on what it wants to excel in, he added. “It all comes down to where does NIU want to be in five or 10 years.”

Chief Accountant Doug Moore said NIU needs to give athletics a firm target of where it has to be. If football becomes too costly, Moore said, at some point NIU has to ask itself what kind of school it will be without football as compared to some other academic programs.