I should have realized something was happening yesterday morning when I started receiving emails about my morning blog post on the UAA controversy shortly after it was published. I hardly ever receive email on a blog post and certainly not so quickly after it is posted. But first there was one, and then there were more emails, some providing leads on where I should look next.
By the end of the day, the number of hits to the blog set an all-time record (over 200 in total, 184 on the UAA post alone) and I had received more emails than on any previous topic. All were supportive; none were critical of the piece or attempted to defend Chancellor Case or Dr. Cobb.
Now, I don’t claim to be a citizen journalist and the time that I have to spend on these posts is limited, but after looking at some of the things I was sent — all from people in Alaska — I would say that the issue of UAA funding — and whether Dr. Cobb or the legislative appropriations process deserves credit for UAA’s DII success — is a target rich environment.
One of the best leads I was sent on the subject was a past story from the Ellensburg, Washington, Daily Record. Ellensburg is the home of Central Washington University, one of the members of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. In early 2011, the Daily Record did a five-part story on “the many challenges that accompany Division II athletics and Central Washington University’s athletic program.”
One of the stories — on CWU’s women’s sports programs — captures the gist of the remainder. To give away the punch line, the story is entitled “Uneven playing field ….“
A large part of the story is about former women’s basketball head coach Jeff Whitney’s efforts to keep CWU’s program competitive in the league. UAA features prominently as a counterpoint. The facts follow my column yesterday in explaining why:
The maximum allotment for Division II women’s basketball programs is 10 scholarships. Alaska-Anchorage and Western Washington both offer 10 full-rides. UAA and WWU are also the top two teams in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and among the top-15 teams in the country. Whitney said not only does his team lack in scholarships (CWU has 7.7 available for women’s basketball), but his recruiting budget is a fraction of what some GNAC schools are afforded.
“During the offseason, Anchorage sends a few of their assistants overseas for a few weeks to recruit all over Europe,” Whitney said. “I’m lucky if my recruiting budget doesn’t run out on a trip to Oregon City. “
Up until the recent $230,000 state allotment provided to the athletic department in June 2010, about 90 percent of Whitney’s operation budget went to travel and scheduling guarantees, leaving him with less than $10,000 to recruit.
The UAA program has players on its roster from around the globe.
“Anchorage, Western, SPU; they all can come into a kid’s house and offer them a full scholarship,” Whitney said. “I have to offer them, what, a two or three quarters (of tuition)? They can bring eight, 10, 12 kids to on-campus visits. We struggle to bring in two or three kids each year.”
Similar articles were forwarded about other GNAC institutions. Some carry numbers that I haven’t otherwise found. For example, in an article about funding difficulties faced by Western Oregon University, another member of the GNAC, the Polk County (Ore.) Itemizer-Observer noted
… in the grand scheme of the NCAA Division II league the Wolves compete in — the Great Northwest Athletic Conference — those dollars aren’t much to begin with: WOU, with $774,000, ranks dead last in the 10-team league in student athletic aid.
To put things in perspective, Alaska Anchorage has the most available athletic aid at $1.88 million.
Certainly, I don’t regret the success that UAA has achieved in the GNAC. But as I wrote yesterday, we should face the facts about it — despite Chancellor Case’s claims to the contrary, the credit for that success does not go to Athletic Director Dr. Steve Cobb, it goes to the legislative funding process, or as Cobb himself appears to have put it at one point, the “blank check” he has been provided (“[I]t doesn’t matter how much money this Athletic Department loses, the state is awash in money and we are just going to get a blank check.” See Casey Reynolds Show, Apr. 22, 2013, podcast at 7:50 mark). .
Which brings us back to the beginning of these events — when significant segments of UAA’s hockey community revolted against Dr. Cobb, issued votes of no-confidence and asked for his ouster.
As I have written extensively elsewhere (see, e.g., “Alaska Fiscal Policy| Another Troubling Data Point,” Thoughts on Alaska Oil & Gas (Apr. 11, 2013)) — and ironically, as UAA’s own Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) has made clear — Alaska is heading into a very uncertain financial future.
The only way to treat future generations of Alaskans fairly is for the state significantly to dial back on government spending now, increase savings and develop an endowment approach that can help supplement future revenues when oil is no longer able to fully fund a reasonable level of state government. See “What is Alaska’s Fiscal Plan,” Thoughts on Alaska Oil & Gas (Sept. 19, 2012).
Some cuts were made this year, more will come in the next several years. Given the tradeoffs, UAA’s athletic budget — and UAA itself — will be early in line for the coming rounds.
As my prior pieces on this topic have attempted to explain, there is one approach that can avoid those cuts translating into reduced results, and that is a successful effort to offset the cuts in state funding with increases in private support.
UAA has a lot of upside potential in that effort. As I wrote in a previous piece, a team of consultants hired by UA President Patrick Gamble earlier characterized the University system’s alumni giving rate, for example, as “embarrassingly low.” When you start low, there is a great deal of room for improvement.
Achieving that improvement, however, will require UAA — and most importantly, UAA Athletics — to adopt something other than its current approach — what the Alaska State Hockey Association calls “callous indifference” — to some of its most important constituencies.
Whether it does so soon — or only after the failure to offset the inevitable budget cuts lead to reductions in program performance — is up to UAA. From the number of responses I received on my blog post, all that I can say is that there are a lot of people watching — and becoming increasingly focused on — how things unfold, and very few appear to be supportive of UAA’s current approach.
In my opinion, it will be better for UAA to recognize that now, than later.