A May 3 article in The New York Times touted a new television deal for the Pac-12 Conference with Fox and ESPN that will bring in about $3 billion over 12 years.
The announcement undoubtedly led to smiles within the UA Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. However, will that money lead anybody on the UA's academic side to smile?
Published reports indicate that the $6 million or so that the UA athletic department annually receives from the current conference television contact could rise to almost $19 million under the new TV deal, which goes into effect next year. That's quite a hefty addition to the athletic department's budget.
In the last fiscal year, that budget was just shy of $55 million, an almost 50 percent increase compared to five years before. Most of the money goes toward salaries and benefits ($20 million) and operations ($17 million), while more than $4 million was spent on athletic-facility improvements.
The general perception of the department is that it's financially self-supporting, but that's not the case when it comes to athletic scholarships. Those millions of dollars in tuition costs are university responsibilities, although the athletic department does contribute $3.6 million annually for student support, including room, board and books costs.
According to John Perrin, the business-affairs director for the athletic department, the projected $12 million to $14 million annual increase in UA revenues from the new TV contract is probably too high, given the extra expenses that will come with the new contract. But that contract will undeniably generate substantially more money.
What does athletic director Greg Byrne plan to do with the extra funds?
"Although there has been a wide variety of speculation about the potential revenue," Byrne states in an e-mail, "we still do not know what the final numbers are going to be, and we will not receive our first increase until the 2012-13 fiscal year."
Continuing, Byrne says: "We have done some early conservative forecasting, and a lot of the increase will need to be devoted toward our many facility issues. Our facility infrastructure is outdated and in need of significant renovations. We also want to make sure that we are able to support our 19 sports and 450 student-athletes going forward."
One other potential use of the new funds could be to help hold down the rising cost of tuition at the UA. With falling contributions from the state government, since 2007, the cost of one semester for an undeclared-major Arizona undergraduate has gone from $2,524 to $4,650—an 84 percent increase.
Professor Wanda Howell is the UA faculty chair. Regarding the possible use of athletic-department funds to assist the university's cash-strapped academic side, she writes in an e-mail: "I have had several conversations with Greg Byrne about this. He has stated that his goal is to contribute funds to support the academic mission of the UA."
Howell continues: "I do believe he is sincere and that eventually, it will happen. Having said that, he has lots of projects to fund in athletics before he will be able to target specific academic needs. Time will tell."
Should the athletic department consider contributing more to the university's general budget?
Byrne responds: "We are concerned about the financial situation for the university, including our own. One of the things we take great pride in is our responsibility to the university to stay as financially independent as possible. We have had our own budget reduction, $1.5 million this year, and until the news about the new television agreement, we were having serious concerns about our ability to compete with 19 teams and 450 student-athletes."
Byrne continues: "While we believe that concern has been eliminated, we also have to approach our budget from an efficient standpoint moving forward so we do not jeopardize that ability in the future, while at the same time moving our department forward."
Regent Dennis DeConcini sees things differently. He hopes a portion of the new television contract money is spent on academics.
"That's certainly where I'm coming from," DeConcini says. "All athletic expenses are not being sustained now (by the department), like the waiver of scholarships for which the UA should be reimbursed."
Another Tucson regent, Rick Myers, isn't as convinced as DeConcini, but he is open to discussing the issue.
Myers says in an e-mail: "I do think all options should be on the table, and I expect the university to bring the regents a great plan that will give us strong athletics and, where possible, reduce any subsidies that may come from the university's general budget and help ensure we can meet all of our obligations to our students."
Student regent William Holmes III attends the UA and will also wait to see what the university administration recommends for the extra TV revenue.
"One could even anticipate," Holmes suggests in an e-mail, "that this new opportunity might provide funds to update antiquated athletic facilities to enrich the student experience while freeing up some funds for other university needs."
For now, the regents haven't yet scheduled the issue for discussion. As Yogi Berra, observed: "It ain't over 'til it's over."