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Athletics carry their own weight.

Byline: Bob Clark The Register-Guard

The budget for athletics at Oregon is at an all-time high of $37.5 million. The donations from boosters continue to pour in, now $11 million and counting, and before the football team had scrimmaged in August, every seat was sold for the four Pac-10 games at Autzen Stadium, promising another $5.2 million before one hot dog or beer is sold.

All that income, and the way the Ducks choose to spend it, has sparked some controversy, particularly at a university that has struggled with its funding for academics in a state that has drastically lessened its support of higher education in recent years.

Contrast salary freezes for faculty members with a $1 million football coach. Explain a $1.3 million locker room for football when buildings on campus aren't kept up.

`The university's financial picture hasn't kept pace with the improvements financially in our athletic department, but that's not the athletic department's fault,' said Dan Williams, the UO vice president for administration.

He acknowledged that there are `thoughtful people' who worry about the perception there's plenty of money for sports at a university otherwise struggling financially, but they also understand the funds are in different accounts that shouldn't be mingled .

`There are some less thoughtful people who believe that's a cash cow over there that needs to be changed' so that its revenues bail out the academic areas, Williams added.

While among the many who would like to see further controls put on athletic spending, Williams defends the department he oversees.

`Their financial position is a lot stronger than the university's generally, but it's not stronger than the peer group they compete with,' Williams said. And there is, he contended, `a significant contribution to the general welfare of the university' from athletic department funds.

Athletics, for instance, will pay the university $645,000 this fiscal year for `administrative assessments,' which is the department's fee for the time of Williams and others who work with athletics. The athletic department pays for housing and tuition of its athletes, and with most of the 85 football scholarships going to non-Oregonians, that's $19,374 in tuition in the coming academic year for an athlete taking 15 hours of classes per quarter.

The athletic department is now self-sufficient and no longer being given any financial support by the university itself. Earlier this year the UO Athletics Task Force recommended a "voluntary" contribution by athletics to the Presidential Scholarship fund, though the last thing Williams would like to see is the athletic department being required to donate a specific amount to the academic side of the university each year.

That would raise the specter of what happens in an off year for the football team - take some money intended for an academic area and use it to replace dollars lost because of fewer fans attending games?

If the athletic department is making money, so much the better, Williams said.

`Auxiliary activities like housing and athletics run themselves like a business because they have to,' Williams said. `You have to recognize that you need to keep in place incentives for them to perform.

`This is hard for people to appreciate because the standard of living over there is so much higher than the standard of living on the general campus, but in relation to their peer group, they're not well off. They're in a very competitive environment.'

Bill Moos, the director of athletics, also worries about the Ducks keeping up in the spending race.

The price of a reserved seat for a football game has gone from $17.50 in the Rose Bowl season of 1994 to $32 for four of this season's home games, and $50 for two other games. While that's a significant increase, consider that tickets for the Rose Bowl game itself have gone from $48 a decade ago when Oregon played there to $125.

Oregon has also made an effort to keep other tickets affordable, if less available. General admission tickets are $18 for adults, up a third from the $13.50 they sold for in '94, and student GA tickets are at $9, only $2 more than they cost in that Rose Bowl season a decade ago.

Most of Oregon's football tickets are sold to fans who also donate, however, and Moos fears there's a practical ceiling to that income, which now accounts for 29 percent of Oregon's athletic budget.

`Have we tapped ourselves out?' Moos said of current revenue sources. `With our ticket (prices) and donor seating levels, I don't know if we can push those numbers much further.'

Worse yet, what if they declined? The Ducks shudder at the thought of a revenue decrease.

`It's hard to say how much of our fan base are fence riders, that if we went 3-8 two years in a row, how many folks would we lose?' Moos wondered aloud. `I was encouraged after the (7-6 record in the) 2002 season, which I think in everyone's minds would be termed mediocre, that we were able to come back and break season ticket records (for 2003) and then break them again this year.'

DOLLARS FOR THE DUCKS

A comparison in various categories of the UO department of athletics budgets, for the Rose Bowl year of 1994-95 and the current year, and the percentage of increase:

1994-95 2004-05 Increase

Total athletics budget $18.5 million $37.5 million 103 percent

Revenue for a football game $400,000 $1.3 million 225 percent

Budget for football $6.5 million $9.9 million 52 percent

Budget for women's sports $2.11 million $5.45 million 158 percent

Donor giving $1.1 million $11 million 900 percent

-Source: UO athletic department
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Title Annotation:Sports; Perception of "cash cow" dining on green pastures isn't reality, officials say
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 2, 2004
Words:949
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