We’ve all heard that Appalachian football coach Scott Satterfield left his $700,000 salary for an even higher salary elsewhere. Athletics at Appalachian is expensive, and it’s not paying for itself. In fact, Appalachian administrators have just proposed to the Board of Trustees a hike in the student fee for athletics from $760 a year per full-time student to $783 per year. And this doesn’t include another student fee for athletics facilities debt reduction, which takes the total yearly fee each student pays for athletics to over $1,000. That athletics facilities fee, although reduced slightly for next year, has increased nearly 200% since 2011.
The typical Appalachian student likely does not even realize that s/he is paying over $750 this year just to subsidize athletics. A student might prefer to keep that $750 each year so as to borrow less in student loans, cut back on work hours so as to sleep or study more, increase the thermostat on cold winter nights, travel abroad, buy a mountain bike, or get a new laptop.
Athletics at Appalachian State loses about $20 million per year, and they force students to cover this operating loss annually. Student fees pay for over half of the Athletics Department’s operations—more than ticket sales and donations do. The athletic fee is higher than any other fee students pay, including for educational technologies, textbook rentals, co-curricular programs, and healthcare. Sound too crazy to be true? Take a look at how the 2018-19 student fees get allocated.
In 2011, when the university announced that it would move the football program from FCS to join the Sun Belt, then Chancellor Ken Peacock promised the move would not be made on the backs of students. Since that year, however, the student athletic fee continues to increase. Students are bankrolling increases in coaches’ salaries, charter flights, athletes’ scholarships, and many services for athletes.
But wait, an expensive football program is the face of the University, increasing our visibility, you might hear. That’s an awfully expensive PR campaign. With the same money, Appalachian could build stellar academic programs, fund all students to study abroad, invest in infrastructure that reduces our operating costs, or give start-up funds to student entrepreneurs. Davidson, William & Mary, George Mason, Columbia, and MIT have all managed to build terrific reputations without costly football programs. Those institutions have told students and the public, through their actions, that academics take priority over tailgate parties.
Athletics is not part of the university’s mission, and yet athletics gets the support it requests—in the very same week that the faculty was told that the University could find no way to fund salary increases.
Appalachian State is prioritizing athletic entertainment over educational opportunities, over faculty salaries, and over other opportunities to support academics. The Office of Research is understaffed. Some instructors have converted closets as offices, some share offices, and some have no offices at all. The rising cost of higher education is a major problem, but not, as some seem to presume, because the faculty have cushy jobs and fat paychecks.
Our University is taking money from starving students (and local studies of food insecurity show that some of our students really are going hungry), who are borrowing money in the form of student loans, and then spending that money to pay for alumni and fan entertainment.
The Board of Trustees should oppose Appalachian’s plans for this student fee hike for athletics, and advocate to reallocate student athletic fee money to academics. We’re not advocating that athletics go away, just for athletics to operate without forced student subsidies. The BoT should let students keep their money and encourage an increase in ticket prices to fund athletics instead. Football fans and alumni can afford higher ticket prices, and if they can’t afford to pay more for their football game tickets, well then they can take a loan to pay for it.
As always,the Appalachian State AAUP chapter favors open debate and strongly encourages readers to offer their thoughts in the “comments” section below.
This blog is run the Appalachian State University AAUP Chapter. The opinions published herein do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP or any given individual member of AAUP.