December 2, 2008

Clearing up a cloud of dust

By Randy Hodgins

“Three yards and a cloud of dust” is an old football saying, originally used to describe Ohio State’s offense under Woody Hayes.

It could also apply to some of the debate over the University’s proposal to renovate Husky Stadium which continues to move forward, but not without some dust getting thrown up in the process.

To clear up the dust, below is a letter sent by President Emmert to the Faculty Senate which offers a clear and concise description of the reasons for and funding of the stadium project.

Dear Members of the Faculty Senate:

A number of concerns about athletic department funding, the expected salary for a new head football coach, and the Husky Stadium renovation project have reached me, and I want to provide some information and my perspective on these matters. I assume many of you recognize that the athletic department is a fully self-sustaining entity, with no state tax dollars, no University dollars, and no student fee dollars going to support its operations or capital expenses. The department is responsible for generating all of the $60 million a year it spends. It generates its revenue from ticket sales, media revenue, and philanthropy. To put the department in perspective, its annual budget represents about two percent of the University’s overall annual budget of $3.2 billion. Approximately 700 student-athletes participate in the 23 sports for men and women, roughly two percent of our undergraduate student population. Needless to say, the sports in which we compete receive far more attention from the public and the media than this two percent measure warrants.

There are about 14 athletic programs in the country that are self-sustaining. We, fortunately, are one of them and are able to do so largely on the strength of our football program, which generates about 85 percent of the department’s revenues. We are, by the way, the only institution in the state that does not subsidize its athletic program. Like all units at the University right now, the athletic department has been undergoing a process of examining its costs and expenditures and reducing them in the current economic climate.

A successful football program allows us to operate the other 22 sports. Success requires superb leadership, not just in providing a high quality educational experience for the students in the program, but on the field of competition as well. As in everything we do, we want our students to have access to the highest level of competition and success possible, and that means finding the right coach. Athletic Director Scott Woodward and I are looking for that person right now. Some of you may have seen some very large amounts reported in the newspapers for what it may take to hire such a coach. Some of the speculation has been greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, salaries for coaches in the marketplace have escalated significantly in recent years, and we are prepared to pay a competitive salary for someone who can bring the program the kind of success it requires. I consider it a good business decision to invest the dollars necessary to keep the program healthy and competitive and to keep the revenues flowing to the athletic department to support all of its programs.

Another element of the success of the football program involves the renovation of Husky Stadium. Anyone who has been to the stadium in recent years knows that it is sorely in need of repair and renovation. The original lower bowl sits on the same earthen foundation built for it 90 years ago. We have developed a program for its renewal that totals $300 million, $50 million of which is targeted for a new football training and office facility adjacent to the stadium. Another $100 million would rebuild the press boxes on the stadium’s south side and provide other stadium enhancements. The remaining $150 million would address fundamental safety improvements, including replacing the crumbling lower bowl, meeting seismic requirements, and complying with ADA requirements.

We have a funding plan to accomplish this project. We believe the athletic department can raise through a variety of means $150 million from donors, seat-related contributions, and other departmental sources. This $150 million is earmarked for the new football facility and stadium enhancements. We are proposing that the other $150 million, earmarked for safety improvements, be funded from existing taxes collected only in King County and currently paying debt on Safeco and Qwest Fields. The taxes are on rental cars, hotels and motels, and restaurants. When they were created to support these sports facilities, they were intended as a stimulus to bolster tourism in the city and the county.

We are seeking from the 2009 Legislature authorization to redirect some of these taxes when the debt on the other two stadiums is paid. It is important to get authorization now so that we can issue the debt to begin construction. The University would receive no dollars from these tax sources in the 2009-2011 biennium. The first dollars from these taxes do not become available until 2012 at the earliest and more likely 2013. The Qwest Field dollars do not free up until 2021. So, what we have is a public works project to renovate the state’s largest public football stadium-creating thousands of jobs at a time when the construction industry badly needs the work-and the public dollars to help pay for the project are still years away. We believe this is a sound approach and of great benefit to the state economy now and to the University and its athletic programs for years to come.

I look forward to the discussion at the Senate meeting on Thursday.

Sincerely yours,

Mark A. Emmert

President

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