athletics bleeding red -- and that should make you blue
By Joey Hislop
October 2, 2006 | If they build it, will you come?
the movie Field of Dreams, Iowa corn farmer Ray
Kinsella heeds the advice of a voice from the sky and
mows down a sizeable chunk of his family's only source
of income to build a baseball field, doing so with only
the promise, "If you build it, they will come."
Though they're not his exact words, that's pretty
much what USU Athletic Director Randy Spetman told the
Board of Trustees last January concerning the proposed
-- and partially finished -- project to upgrade Romney
Stadium. Yet to be done is Phase 2 of the project, otherwise
known as the $10.5 million renovation to the stadium's
north end zone.
While raising corn is hardly a second option for the
above-mentioned land, Spetman must feel much like Kinsella
when he thinks about the future of USU's football program
and the upcoming renovations to the north end zone.
The end zone renovation follows an already completed
revamping of the south entrance of the stadium and is
slated to begin at the completion this year's football
season. While most of the money has been generated thanks
to $6 million from what is known as the "student bond,"
as well as budget appropriations and generous donations,
the project still lacks about $1.5 million and, according
to Spetman, will have to be built in phases until all
the money is raised.
To make this situation even more desperate, the football
program is in danger of being put on probation by the
Western Athletic Conference for low average attendance
totals and will lose its eligibility for WAC bowl games
if the low attendance averages continue over the next
couple years. Spetman argues, along with many others,
that these improvements to the stadium will help in
the recruiting of top athletes and will thereby lead
to future success, which in turn helps to build up the
strength of the football program and other programs.
However, this fall has been a particularly difficult
one in terms of making a case for the need for these
renovations. For starters, the university has been cutting
funding from academic programs left and right due to
a general lack of funds. In terms of priority, many
feel that academic programs should take precedence over
athletics programs, especially when the most profitable
athletic program -- basketball -- only breaks even.
To make things even worse, the football program, which
as mentioned is in danger of being put on probation
for lack of attendance, has yet to win a game this year
and will most likely be unable to sign top recruits
as a result of its lack of success regardless of attendance
While this situation has yet to cause a severe amount
of uproar on campus or in the community, it is one that
should be taken seriously by citizens, students, sports
fans and non-sports fans alike. The sheer financial
figures are somewhat alarming. USU athletics paid $500,000
just become part of the WAC and has to pay $400,000
every year to stay in it. So far, the lack of attendance
has put the program in the red nearly $300,000 to date.
Also, to help offset a $150,000 increase in the cost
of funding student-athlete scholarships due to the passing
of HB 331, USU has increased the amount of fees every
student must pay by $10. The irony here is that most
students don't go to the athletics events they're being
charged extra for. Again, if attendance figures continue
to drop, recruits won't want to come here anyway, and
as Spetman told the Board of Trustees, this could result
in the football program folding.
So, what's to be done? The football program will either
sink or swim. Oh, and by the way; before anyone starts
chanting "Fire the coach!! Fire the coach!!" keep in
mind that firing the current football coach would mean
buying-out the remainder of his five-year contract which
would also mean that USU would be paying for three head
football coaches -- the new guy they would hire, the
last guy they fired (whom they're continuing to pay
since they bought him out a couple years ago), as well
as the current coach who, as you can see, is not about
to be fired.
Now, most people probably go one of three ways on
this issue. There are those who say screw athletics.
They would rather see the money go to the much more
important academic programs which have the potential
to build good and able college graduates who will go
out into the real world and contribute to their community.
There's also those who enjoy watching athletics and
would hate to see their school have to cut its football
program. Unfortunately for many students, attending
games is not possible due to schedule conflicts and
homework load. Valley residents often face a similar
predicament when it comes to getting off work to attend
a game. Many find it just as enjoyable to listen to
a game on the radio as it would be to attend, pointing
to weather as a main reason to stay home. That decision
is made even easier when games are televised. There's
also a third party -- those who don't care. They're
the ones who don't go to games.
If you do go to games and count yourself among the
die-hard Aggie fans and don't want to see your team
pack-up and go back home, keep on doing what you're
doing. The Aggies need your support. While you're at
it, feel free to make a generous donation to your favorite
team's end-zone fund. They need it. The fact of the
matter is that the football program for the last couple
years has been on something of a downward spiral. There's
no certainty to any possible remedies for the problem,
nor is there any end in sight. It's becoming a no-win
situation for Spetman and others involved, especially
when the team records no wins.
Unfortunately, in the business of college sports it's
no longer about the lessons you learn along the way,
unless the lesson you learn is that you need money to
compete. Utah State doesn't have that money. No mun
-- no fun. That's the harsh reality here. When it comes
to success in college athletics, the bottom line is
the bottom line and though Utah State's colors are blue
and white, the only thing they're seeing is red.