Bill calls for UI, ISU to share athletics money with UNI
An Iowa lawmaker introduced a bill this week calling on the University of Iowa and Iowa State University to share athletic funding with the University of Northern Iowa.
The bill, Senate File 2119, would require the Iowa City- and Ames-based universities, respectively, collectively to set aside $4 million annually for the next five years from the universities' athletic departments and transfer that money to their Cedar Falls-based sister institution.
Of the proposed total $4 million, $2.28 million would come from UI and $1.72 million would come from ISU, according to the legislation.
"We should be one big family of universities," said Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, who introduced the bill. "We've got three great universities here, and there is a lack of parity in terms of how they are funded."
The bill has been assigned to a subcommittee, but Johnson said he was uncertain that a hearing would be called. And without a companion bill in the Iowa House of Representatives, he added, his proposal is unlikely to make it through the Legislature's self-imposed funnel deadline next week.
"I've introduced bills on behalf of others that might take three or four years to get through," he said. "So this isn't unusual. I just want to see what happens here, and we'll take it from there. I can always introduce it again next year."
The idea behind Johnson's bill is similar to a proposal offered last year by Michael Gartner, a former president of the Iowa Board of Regents. Because of their lucrative contracts with the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences, UI and ISU haven't had to use any state tax dollars or student subsidies for their athletics programs for years.
As a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, UNI sees a small fraction of that conference's revenue. As a result, the university has provided its athletics program more than $56 million in taxpayer or student subsidies over the past dozen years to cover what couldn't be raised through ticket sales, conference contracts, alumni donations, student fees and other sources.
Rather than continuing to use general fund dollars, Gartner told The Des Moines Register last year, two readily available sources to cover the roughly $4 million UNI athletics deficit would be the $89.7 million and $62.7 million annual budgets for UI and ISU athletics respectively.
Johnson described UNI's ongoing athletics deficit as a problem "that the regents could have taken care of by now."
The regents worked out an agreement in 2010 to cap UNI's use of state money for athletics to 2.4 percent of the university's general fund. The issue has not been added to a regent meeting agenda since then.
Johnson said he has no personal ties to UNI — it is not in his district — "except I know it's a great school, and they keep their graduates in the state better than the other universities do."
University officials deferred questions about any proposed legislation to the regents.
"The board believes that the best way for the Legislature to appropriate money to any of our institutions is to fund the request made by the board in September 2015, as it is written," regent spokesman Josh Lehman said in an emailed statement.
Reach Jeff Charis-Carlson at email@example.com or 319-887-5435. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffcharis.
2010 agreement on UNI athletics funding
During its Sept. 16, 2010, meeting, the Iowa Board of Regents approved the following plan for reducing subsidies to University of Northern Iowa athletics from the general fund, which includes state tax money and student tuition and fees.
- UNI reduced the general university support to athletics by over 13 percent from fiscal 2009 to budgeted fiscal 2011.
- UNI believes intercollegiate athletics should not be treated as a self-sustaining auxiliary.
- UNI set a four-year time frame, fiscal 2012-2015, for achieving its desired reduction in university general fund contributions to $4.2 million, a nearly 18.3 percent decrease from fiscal 2009.
- Athletics would not receive more than 2.4 percent of the university general fund budget in future years.