Thursday, February 28, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 103


 
 









 

SFAC should teach Athletics a lesson

Brandon Moeller

"Who watched the Memphis game?" Senior Associate Athletics Director Larry Leckonby asked last week as he started his group's
presentation to the Student Fees Advisory Committee. 

Dean of Students and ex-officio participant William Munson and business professor Keith Cox were the only SFAC participants who
responded, sheepishly raising their hands.

"Well, it seems like a room of non-believers," Leckonby jokingly asserted. 

But the fact that student interest in the UH Athletics Department and its various programs has diminished significantly since the heyday
of its more successful years is no laughing matter. It's a reality.

The reasons depend on who is asked and what corresponding side of the debate they align themselves with; some would argue
students should support their teams through lackluster performance years while others contend that Athletics drains money that could
essentially further their educational experience. 

Leckonby himself said, "I'd be the first to say it: (Athletics) isn't nearly as important, not nearly as important, as any academic endeavor
around campus." 

Though Leckonby repeated himself for emphasis, it's not as if his purpose for appearing before SFAC was to dissuade it from giving
money to the Athletics Department. In fact, on behalf of the department, Leckonby requested an unprecedented $3.7 million, or about
one-third of the entire student fee pot. No other group asked for so much.

Since the average UH student isn't particularly fond of attending athletic events, or more usually is too busy to enjoy doing so, where
does the Athletics Department get off asking for so much? The request is based on precedent and tradition.

For years, SFAC has bought into the department's rhetoric and has granted it what it wants. SFAC, as a state-mandated advisory
board, is made up of seven voting students and two voting faculty members. (It should be noted that all seven students on this year's
committee were male undergraduates.) The purpose of the board is to give students a dominant voice in building up the programs they
perceive to benefit them while limiting those they deem ineffective. 

Traditionally, nearly every program asks for more money, which is usually warranted because the amount of student fees collected
rises with increasing enrollment. 

But this year it is predicted that enrollment will be static. 

As this journalist saw it, the Athletics Department's verbal presentation to SFAC was insulting. Not because of anything Leckonby said,
but because of what he didn't say and how he didn't say it. 

Unlike other groups that arguably benefit students in a more direct way, Leckonby didn't bother to give his presentation via the now
cliched PowerPoint presentation. Furthermore, he didn't bother to painstakingly explain how the requested $3.7 million would be used,
as did other presenters who were more thoroughly drilled by SFAC members. 

Leckonby's presentation consisted of jokes, talk of the philosophy of his new boss, Dave Maggard, and a long-dwindling discussion on
the real story behind last semester's "bleacher-gate" fiasco. 

He also talked of how giving his department what it wants coincides with national trends to treat athletics as an investment that rarely
makes a profit. 

He mentioned how Ivy leaguers Princeton and Harvard have some of the biggest athletic deficits in the country. His argument
consisted of fuzzy math and an explanation of how expensive the female soccer and softball ($400,000 each) programs are, although
necessary, in concordance with 1972's federally mandated Title IX. 

Last Friday, during Vice President for Student Affairs Elwyn C. Lee's verbal thoughts on the competing presentations, a senior biology
major wondered aloud about how the Athletics Department would take bad news from the committee.

The brave student representative was Ed Tulin, a presidential appointee to the committee, and his idea was to reduce the
department's base budget to 34 percent of the student fees and to allocate on a one-time basis the other 1 percent. 

I advocate a firmer, sterner approach. The Athletics Department does not deserve a limp slap on the wrist and SFAC does not deserve
its reputation and credibility to be tarnished by such a weak reprimand. 

I propose that SFAC live up to its responsibilities to all fee-paying students and trim back the athletic department's student-fee subsidy
to 20 percent of the entire pot. This is still a large number, and a compassionate compromise. 

The rest of the money should be distributed to the 30 organizations and departments that strive to better the educational experience of
students. 

Moeller, a senior communication 
major, can be reached at brandonmoeller@hotmail.com.


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