Harreld: Could Iowa athletics give money to academics?

Jeff Charis-Carlson
University of Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta holds his cell phone with the flashlight lit, illustrating the new trend at the start of the fourth quarter during Iowa Hawkeye football games. Barta, joined by president Bruce Herreld, center, and Gary Dolphin, spoke during the Hawkeye Huddle at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in Los Angeles, Calif.

The president of the University of Iowa said he is looking into a "more formal passing" of money from the UI athletics department to the university's academic programs.

"I've asked (UI Athletics Director Gary Barta) to really think about it and start to engage in the process," UI President Bruce Harreld said last week during an interview with the student newspaper, The Daily Iowan. "I think that's the way an institution like this works."

Harreld said he would like to see UI take a step beyond the current requirement that the UI athletics department fund its own programs without any support from the university's general fund.

"Several years ago, maybe a decade ago, this institution said we’re not going to move money from academics into athletics," Harreld told the Daily Iowan. "Athletics is going to have to sit on its own bottom, so to speak. That’s the phrase I heard. Somebody made that statement, and that’s where we are."

Largely because of such lucrative contracts with the Big Ten, UI officials say they haven't had to give any state tax dollars or direct student subsidy to their athletics programs for years.

"I'd like to stand up and be one of the first major institutions in the United States that says, 'Hey, it's moving the other way,' " Harreld said of the trend at most other schools toward funding athletics through general fund dollars.

Data recently published by USA Today lists UI athletics as receiving a $650,000 annual student subsidy. UI officials said the student fees concern the financing of the UI Recreation and Wellness Center — which Harreld described as being largely a "student-centered" facility.

"The next step might be that we have a more formal passing of athletics now," Harreld told the Daily Iowan. "For good or for bad, the sports-world revenue in terms of TV, radio, website, fans, the stadiums is a machine. SEC, Big Ten, Pac 12, right? As those revenues have gone up, I think it’s high time that we ask another question — could they actually help deal with those fiscal issues that we’ve got?"

Harreld's comments come at a time when UI athletics is facing a deficit for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

"Not until June will we know exactly where this year's budget ends up," Barta said during an April 7 meeting of the UI Presidential Committee on Athletes. "We know there will be a deficit, and that’s really a combination of season ticket sales and football ticket sales coming into the year, and then this odd dynamic of having this wonderfully successful season and just paying for all the things that go with having a great season."

Barta said that athletics will cover whatever the total deficit is for the current year.

"As you know, we are self-sustaining, so we have a reserve," he said. "And I’m confident that in 2016-17, we’ll begin making back up ground.”

UI athletic officials said the department has not had a budget deficit in recent years.

The department did report $3.2 million more in expenses than revenue in 2014-15, according to data published by USA Today. But UI athletic officials said via email that the data "does not take into account the timing difference between contributions for capital campaigns and expenses associated with those capital campaigns."

The University of Northern Iowa, as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, sees a small fraction of the conference revenue received by UI and ISU. As a result, UNI has provided its athletics program more than $56 million in taxpayer or student subsidies over the past 12 years. The money was needed to cover costs that exceed revenue from ticket sales, alumni donations, student fees and other sources.

The Iowa Board of 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.

Legislation was introduced earlier this year in the Iowa Legislature calling on UI and ISU to share athletic funding with UNI. The bill was assigned to a subcommittee but has not move forward in the legislation process.

Reporter Matt Cozzi contributed to this story.

Reach Jeff Charis-Carlson on or 319-887-5435. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffcharis.