Letter from R. Sundt 14 Feb 2000

The following letter was received from Professor Richard Sundt on 14 February 2000. As it was titled ``Open Letter to the Senate and the University of Oregon Community'', it is posted with his implicit permission. It will be distributed in hard copy to the UO Senate at the March meeting.
From rsundt@OREGON.UOREGON.EDU Mon Feb 14 02:16:18 2000
From: "Richard A. Sundt"
Subject: Another letter to the Senate


13 February 2000

Richard A. Sundt Associate Professor



  • A. Coming on the heels of the $70-80 million Autzen Stadium expansion, slated for completion within the next five years or so, is a new and still more costly project of the Athletic Department: building an entirely new facility for basketball, despite the fact that some $5 million is currently being spent on renovating Mac Court. The Athletic Director's plans for basketball are discussed in the sports page of the Register-Guard (Saturday, 12 February 2000). According to the newspaper article, the Director "believes a new facility is five to 10 years away" and that "it could carry an $80 million to $100 million price tag·."

  • B. Here we find ourselves, not having yet built the Autzen expansion, but already planning for an even more costly facility for the one unit on this campus that is on the upswing, athletics. In the meantime, academics at Oregon is fast going nowhere. Our sports teams get glowing reviews, but our academic program (and that of our sister institutions) has been rated no better than mediocre by a recent set of articles in the The Oregonian (Portland) . The new basketball facility simply underscores the urgency of my earlier calls for reforming intercollegiate athletics. We need to control the escalation of sports and the attendant professionalization and commercialization that goes with this exponential growth, a growth that simply undermines in different ways the integrity and mission of this institution.

  • C. Last November many members the faculty were caught off-guard by the announcement regarding the Autzen expansion. There was dismay that the faculty had not been consulted on this project and that it had been formulated without real faculty input. I hope this open letter gives everyone ample warning of impending plans, and thus a chance to exercise control on this issue before it is too late and out of our reach. First of all, does the Senate have a yes or no say on the basket ball project? If not, what does faculty governance mean? Should the Senate give its consent, I believe it should do so under certain conditions and on firm, non-negotiable terms. These and the logic behind them I detail below (for the actual terms see G).

  • D. First of all, it is important to note that the call for a new basketball arena is driven not by the need to fund the athletic program per se. The Autzen expansion we have been told will take care of future funding: it will make the program totally self-supporting and will thus be sufficient to eliminate (within the next 5 years or so) the need for the current annual subsidy of $2.2 million from general funds. The drive for a new arena is fueled by dissatisfaction of fans with Mac Court, particularly those aficionados who can feel their thick wallets when sitting on the bleachers of this venerable arena (according the RG article, the new facility will have 2000 club seats at a cost of $5000 a piece and 1000 padded seats at $2500 apiece). Besides providing creature comforts, such as we in academics don't have, and better sight lines, the Athletic Department sees the new basketball facility as a way of "maximizing revenue" for its program. For in addition to having many more and better seats, thereby considerably raising revenue from ticket sales, the proposed facility would earn additional money by creating, according to Mr. Moos and the RG article, a space "that would combine athletics with trade shows, concerts and other public events." (Actually, a smart and sensible idea.)

  • E. I have misgivings about the proposed facility on a number of fronts. First and foremost is the fact that we are simply letting athletics spiral out of control and this is bad for academics and the student athletes who are expected to put their work for the Athletic Department (and the University) first, and attend last to their studies, as evidenced by the fact that student athletes are constantly asking faculty for makeups, etc. When are athletes going to be allowed to "focus" on their tests and homework to the same degree and intensity that they are being required by their coaches to "focus" on sports practice and games? I am also worried that going for more donations, particularly after the huge amount so recently collected for Autzen, will make it more difficult, not easier, for academics to raise the large sums we need. This then raises the issue brought up by various individual during the whitepaper town meeting: Is the administration willing to push as hard for academic funding as it is for sports?

  • F. Given that the Autzen expansion is to cover the future needs of the athletic budget, I can only assume that the Athletic Department does not really need additional revenue. What a new arena would provide is an unexpected and pleasant windfall coming from elite fans (rather than students) wanting better quarters for enjoying basketball games. So how is this new revenue to be spent? Here is where professionalization, de-amateurization, commercialization and a host of other nefarious things come into play. Are salaries of coaches going to be raised even higher than they are now, creating further inequities with the teaching faculty, librarians and others engaged in the University's true mission? Will the new revenue source also lead to the addition of more sports, more than the number required for staying in the Pac-10 and Division I? Such a move would mean more coaches and eventually every new sport will want improved facilities, adding once more to upwardly spiraling expectations; this in the end will require more donors, and to keep up the escalation and the athletic appetite, annual subsidies from the state may well be required in the future (if indeed they end after the Autzen expansion) in order to keep the sports program out of debt. All of this has to be nipped before it goes further, for it will only get worse, condemning academics to being the perpetual loser in the money game.

  • G. I urge the following terms be accepted by the Athletic Department in exchange for approval of the new basketball facility. The terms I propose flow directly from the declarations the Athletic Department and the Administration themselves have made (see F above). SINCE the Autzen Stadium expansion will provide funds for the Athletic Department to become totally self-sustaining when this facility is completed in 5-7 years (thus eliminating the need for the current state subsidy), and SINCE these new revenues, together with the present ones, will be sufficient for Oregon to remain at top competitive level (Pac-10 and NCAA division I), all revenues accruing from the new basketball facility (such as those from ticket sales above and beyond the amount obtainable from Mac Court and rental of the facility for trade shows and other functions) should be turned over to the Provost to fund the academic program. If this happens, then it will be evident, as it has not been in the past and is not presently, that athletics actually benefits academics. Given our scarce resources at the University of Oregon and the fact athletics have been subsidized for the last ten years (at least) from state funds otherwise designated for teaching, it is now time, to paraphrase John Kennedy, to ask, not what more can academics can do for athletics, but rather what can athletics begin doing for academics.

  • A. As I indicated in my comments (Building a Bridge) on the Whitepaper, the Athletic Department loses about $325,000 in post-season tournaments. (Participation in these is not required in order for the school to stay in upper division competition.) What apparently drives the Athletic Department to engage in this losing proposition are such factors as visibility and recruiting, both fueled by the mania for getting the best athletes into Oregon. This is understandable given that everyone else does the same thing. But it is this madness for winning and all the commercial pressures that have to come to bear upon sports that forces our Athletic Departments all over the US to engage in practices that lose money, money which would otherwise go to academics. How much more do academics in Oregon have to suffer? Currently, and if lucky, at least another $10 million more before Autzen makes the Athletic Department self sufficient, supposedly.
  • B. To add insult to injury, there is now discussion about increasing post-season tournaments, rather than decreasing these events, again an indication of how the stakes in sports keep escalating (see the Register-Guard column by Ron Bellamy, 13 February 2000) . The costs don't matter, after all, the Oregon University System has decreed that sports cannot incur deficits, so if these occur, athletics can always count on state subsidies, and that these come out of the academic hide doesn't apparently matter. Perhaps more troubling about the proposal under discussion than the financial factors is what increasing post-season play does to student athletes with respect to their education. These students are already giving more than their share to the Athletic Department and the University of Oregon. How much more should these youths be exploited for the purpose of entertaining crowds of elite fans, promoting donated products worn, earning more revenue, etc.,? Why not stop with regular season play and let the athletes concentrate on their studies? After all, how many will make their careers as professional players? Student athletes ought to be allowed to do the best they can academically, so why pile up on them what is unnecessary? Why not put a stop to this insanity of the NCAA and the Pac-10? This is not done because intercollegiate athletics and universities have lost sight of priorities and have allowed the almighty dollar to run every aspect of academe. Some years ago, in the early 1990s, according to Bellamy's column, the Pac-10 voted down a proposal to increase post-season play. The reason why three schools dissented ranged from athletic (involving politics within the Pac-10) to academic. It is indeed gratifying that one of the reasons offered, at least by one of the dissenting schools, was to keep student athletes from losing "class time." Regretfully, the University of Oregon was one of the schools that voted for increased play, thus disregarding what is best for the student athlete in terms of his or her education. Judging from Bellamy's report, there is good reason to think that in near future the rising pressures on intercollegiate athletics to perform ever more professionally and before crowds and corporations eager to pay big bucks are going to bury reason and good academic sense: "The concept [increasing post-season play] has the support of most of the schools in the league who see it as a chance to generate revenue·and to improve the league's exposure nationally." So student athletes, instead of being given a break and allowed to focus on their studies, will now be made to work even more and harder for the Athletic Department. It is about time this and other institutions of higher learning put a halt this type of exploitation, and consider giving back "class time" to the athletes who already give much of themselves. Presidents, provosts and faculty throughout the county have to start rewriting the rules under which athletics operate. This is necessary in order to make the whole intercollegiate sports enterprise subordinate to the academic mission of our universities.

    I urge the Senate to begin the process of reforming athletics by voting for a resolution calling for just such an initiative and directing the president of this institution to begin discussing with his peers ways in which athletics can once more be made subordinate to academics. It is time that WE the faculty take charge and reclaim our right to set the agenda for our students. It should not be dictated to us by the Athletic Department, nor the multi-billion sports corporations that permeate all aspects of intercollegiate athletics today. 

    Richard A. Sundt Associate Professor Department of Art History University of Oregon Eugene, OR 97403-5229 USA Telephone 541-346-4698 FAX 541-346-3626 email: rsundt@oregon.uoregon.edu
    Web page spun on 14 February 2000 by Peter B Gilkey 202 Deady Hall, Department of Mathematics at the University of Oregon, Eugene OR 97403-1222, U.S.A. Phone 1-541-346-4717 Email:peter.gilkey.cc.67@aya.yale.edu of Deady Spider Enterprises