Kent State University has hired a national consultant to conduct a sweeping assessment of its athletics programs — a review that includes determining whether any sports should be cut.
“We’re going to review the entire program top to bottom from all of our sports to what we’re doing academically to our sports services,” Athletic Director Joel Nielsen said in a recent interview.
The university wants to see where it fits in with the changing landscape of Division I collegiate sports.
Nielsen isn’t sure what options the consultant, Collegiate Sports Associates of West End, N.C., will present when a final report is delivered in May, but he would rule out nothing.
The University of Alabama-Birmingham late last year shut down its football program for financial reasons.
“Everything is on the table,” Nielsen said. “You can’t go into an assessment protected or it wouldn’t be a true assessment.”
Kent State is paying $35,000 for the study that President Beverly Warren pushed. It comes amid an uncertain and financially challenging time for sports at many colleges and universities.
Last week at the 2015 NCAA Convention in Washington, D.C., the five wealthiest and most powerful conferences — the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference — agreed to increase the value of athletic scholarships by several thousand dollars.
Kent State says it could cost the school up to $1.1 million a year if it were to opt to cover the actual cost of attendance for all its student-athletes.
Collegiate Sports Associates, headed by Todd Turner, a former Division I athletic director, has been interviewing everyone from board trustees to athletes to alumni, and also conducted an online survey.
Marvin Logan, the president of the Kent State Undergraduate Student Government and a former track and field athlete, participated in the survey.
A 22-year-old from Warren, Logan is majoring in Pan-African Studies and will graduate this year. He welcomes additional financial resources and programs for athletes so they are better prepared after they leave school.
Some people don’t realize that scholarships don’t cover the full cost of attending college or that not all of them are full scholarships, he said. Athletes also often don’t get to take in the full college experience because of sports commitments, he added.
He noted that he will leave school about $45,000 in debt, despite having an initial sports scholarship.
He doesn’t want to see any Kent State sports programs cut.
“Athletics certainly has a place in higher education,” Logan said. “It’s very important for the identity of a school. It’s important to help establish school pride, and it’s one of the recruiting tools the university has.”
But he said he understands the financial difficulties of the university as well.
Turner declined to talk specifically about the Kent State study, but said there is tremendous financial stress on colleges and universities today when it comes to athletics.
“The difficulty for lower-resourced schools is that these conditions were created for everyone by this highly resourced group, but only those at that high level have any chance at funding their programs without increased institutional subsidies of athletic programs,” he said.
Schools around the country are looking carefully at their athletic budgets and sports. The University of Akron said the entire school is now undergoing a budgetary review.
Turner doesn’t believe many schools will drop football like Alabama-Birmingham did.
“Dropping a sport is one of the most difficult decisions that an institution can make,” he said. “Dropping football in today’s environment can have very painful consequences, so I don’t expect many to follow suit. But I do believe schools are looking at the scope of their program offerings with a very critical eye.”
Some schools outside the so-called Big Five conferences might opt instead to move from the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level, to the Football Champion Subdivision. Or they could drop other sports to remain in the FBS.
“For these schools, to be competitive at the FBS level will require additional resources,” Turner said. “These dollars to compete with the Power Five will have to come from somewhere. You can either cut costs or increase revenue.
“Unfortunately, these schools cannot drive the dollars from TV and postseason play that the Power Five can, so they are stressed as institutions to subsidize their athletics programs from institutional dollars and student fees.”
Kent State, which operates with an athletics budget of $26 million, has about 425 student-athletes and 18 varsity programs.
Nielsen said it’s not easy running the athletics program now, but he doesn’t see the upcoming NCAA changes as negatively affecting the university.
“It’s not as though this is something that is going to flip our cart over, so to speak,” he said. “It’s something that’s difficult now. It’s like anything else: If you add more costs on, it just increases the difficulty to do all of the things you’re doing right now.”
Turner said the federal government might have to step in “to bring some sanity to the landscape.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.