Editorial: Hawkeye athletics should pass dollars to scholars

The Register's Editorial

Hopes are high in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes kick off the football season next week with predictions of another Big 10 West Division championship and major bowl berth.

Imagine the excitement, however, if the Hawkeyes’ success meant more than school pride. What if it actually provided a financial boost to the academic side of the university?

The odds of that happening may be better than Iowa winning a national championship, thanks, in part, to University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld. The much-maligned leader has challenged the athletic department to step up and contribute to the rest of the university.

We’re still waiting for Athletic Director Gary Barta to come up with a proposal in response. But if he claims he can't afford it, then consider this story that came out this week: Football strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle will make $595,000 in base pay this year. That’s a 15.5 percent raise and double the salary of his peers in the Big Ten.

Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, right, and Kirk Ferentz have been united in Iowa City for the past 17 seasons.

Three of head coach Kirk Ferentz’s assistants now make nearly $600,000. In all, 10 of his assistant coaches will make a total of more than $4 million in base pay in 2016, a 14 percent increase over last year. Oh, and Ferentz makes a base pay of $4.075 million himself.

Meanwhile, Iowa faculty salaries are expected to increase about 2 percent this year.

Out-of-control coaches’ salaries have fueled the spending binge in college football. Iowa’s athletic department has seen its expenses nearly double from 2005 to 2015, for example.

Yes, Iowa’s athletic program is self-supporting. But it no longer should be an island, as the rest of university fights in an increasingly competitive higher education field and athletics benefits from ballooning TV contracts.

Iowa State athletics doesn’t bring in as much revenues as Iowa, and the program has more recently become self-supporting. But the same debate should be happening in Ames: What more can the program do for academics?

Iowa State President Steven Leath has said he’s not pursuing that question, citing pending lawsuits related to athletics.

At UI, Harreld raised the issue in the spring, and he became more specific in an Iowa Public Radio interview this week. He said the athletic department has responded positively to the idea, which he said was not a dictate.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld applauds graduating students during the UI commencement ceremony for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, May 14, 2016.

“I’m asking them to own this. To think not only about the size of it, but also to think about specifically what would they like to contribute to,” Harreld said. “Would they like to contribute to the athletic recreational center that supports the entire student body? Would they like to campus safety? Would they like to contribute to endowing a few faculty positions that are close to their students? So, they’re considering it. They’re working it. And I’m sure it will lead to tighter connection, and it’s something we can all feel proud of.”

The step would not be unprecedented. Athletic departments at four Big Ten schools — Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Purdue — provide between $4 million and $36 million to the rest of the university.

Harreld is dismissing notions that the athletic department revenues could prevent tuition increases. But it might be used to give faculty a competitive raise, which they haven’t received in years. Or it could attract new professors or new academic programs and help the school reach its goal of recovering “its status as a top-20 public research university.”

Now that’s something to cheer about.