By Mike Jones on January 18, 2017 at 12:40 pm
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, January 17th, an Iowa state senator introduced a bill related to the transfer of funding among athletic programs at the institutions of higher learning under the Iowa State Board of Regents. On its face, this seems rather inconspicuous, until you actually look at the content and explanation of the bill, which reads:

This bill directs the state university of Iowa (UI) and Iowa state university of science and technology (ISU) to transfer from moneys from their university’s athletic departments a total of $4.3 million for each of the next five years to the university of northern Iowa (UNI) athletic department.

Yes, you read that correctly. This bill is attempting to codify a law that would annually “transfer” funds from the athletic departments of the University of Iowa and Iowa State University to the University of Northern Iowa. The bill lays out specific timetables for these transfers:

For each fiscal year of the fiscal period beginning July 1, 2017, and ending June 30, 2022, the UI athletic department shall transfer $2.5 million to the UNI athletic department, and the ISU athletic department shall transfer $1.8 million to the 17 UNI athletic department.

In summation, this bill would require that Iowa and Iowa State “transfer” (read: pay) UNI’s athletic department a total of $21.5 million dollars over a period of five years.  

The senator who introduced this bill is David Johnson (that’s just a coincidence), an independent from the first district, which consists of Lyon, Osceola, Dickinson, Clay and Palo Alto Counties. A graduate of West Branch High School, Johnson attended Beloit College in Wisconsin and has spent his entire political career in western Iowa, serving as a member of the Iowa Senate since 2003.

This isn’t actually the first time that Johnson has introduced a bill such as this. Last year, he submitted SF 2119, which stated:

For each fiscal year of the fiscal period beginning July 1, 2016, and ending June 30, 2021, the UI athletic department shall transfer $2,280,000 to the UNI athletic department, and the ISU athletic department shall transfer $1,720,000 to the UNI athletic department.

Predictably, the bill didn’t go anywhere.

As the Iowa City Press-Citizen stated last year, the general idea behind the bill is for Iowa and Iowa State to “transfer” (read: funnel) money to UNI so that their athletic department won’t have to use state tax dollars or subsidies. Both Iowa and Iowa State’s athletic departments have been self-sustaining for years, thanks to lucrative television deals, something UNI doesn’t have the luxury of. Jeff Charis-Carlson wrote back in 2015 that UNI has provided its athletic department more than $56 million dollars in taxpayer or student subsidies to cover costs.

Presumably, UNI is continuing to support its athletic department with state funds, so Mr. Johnson believes that the solution is for Iowa’s other institutions to prop up the Panthers so their university doesn’t have to. As Bruce Rastetter stated in Charis-Carlson’s article:

The simple answer is the UNI situation is much different than at Iowa and Iowa State…It does not receive the TV revenue dollars that Iowa and Iowa State do. There is a recognition of that. There also is a recognition that there needs to continue to be a viable athletic program at the university. … Without the general fund money, the program can't be successful.

College athletics has become an arms race and as we’re seeing here, UNI is losing. They infamously disbanded their baseball program back in 2009 for monetary reasons and reduced university support to athletics by over 13% from 2009-2011. In 2010 the Board of Regents capped the use of university support to 2.4% of their general fund and now, UNI is facing additional budget cuts as outgoing Governor Terry Branstad is calling for the Board of Regents to cut more than $25.5 million dollars from their budget.

That being said, should Iowa be responsible for propping up UNI’s athletic department because they aren’t profitable? Should Iowa State? UNI fields 7 men’s teams and 10 women’s teams. If they aren’t profitable, should they consider a cost/benefit analysis and potentially downsize their athletic program? With how the state budget is looking in 2017, it looks like that might have to be considered. It’s cold, but this is a cold world and it looks like UNI is freezing to death.  

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