Football at Binghamton? Class examines issue
June 25, 2014Tweet
Should Binghamton University add a football team to its intercollegiate athletics program? If so, what would that require, what level would we want to play at – and what would it look like? These questions have been discussed for years on and off campus, but were taken seriously by a class of Binghamton Scholars enrolled in “Higher Education and Athletics,” taught by Vice President for Student Affairs Brian Rose.
The Scholars delved into the discussion, researching divisions and conferences, as well as funding and Title IX requirements. They even looked at the potential for competitive success, community support and possible locations for a stadium.
But before we get to their conclusions, what did they learn from the class?
“This class had a lot of different facets to it,” said Samantha Thomas, who was assigned the role of producer to prepare for the final presentation the class would make to invited guests. “We had class, worked on the room, sent out invitations – that was an extra component that I didn’t know about before. A lot of kids should be instructed to do this. It’s not academically heavy, but it’s something you’ll need to do in the future.”
“I was satisfied because this class was set up differently and we were asked to talk to other people, not like in a typical class,” she added. “It was more like what you would do in a job in the future, making sure you get feedback – it was more professional work. And it wasn’t as stressful as academics, though we had to make presentations in class so we worked on our oral presentation skills.”
Jake Ethe, a freshman political science major with a concentration in international relations who hails from Melville, Long Island, was tapped to be the Master of Ceremonies for the final presentation. “We had to deal with everything from logistics to visual aids,” he said.
Thomas, a freshman finance major from Monroe, N.Y., threw herself into her event planner role. “What we did was make sure everyone was on track.
We set up a Google Calendar with dates and deadlines, and sent reminders through Bmail about the presentation to make sure everyone showed up on time and dressed well. We also did a rehearsal one week in advance, in our second-to-last class.”
“I loved the class from day one. Every student should be mandated to do something similar. It was independent work and I felt like I was doing something real,” Ethe said. “And, in terms of the conclusion, [spoiler alert] I was happy with it because I came into the class knowing my answer was probably no, but didn’t know why and through this confirmed that it wasn’t feasible. There were bright spots I didn’t initially see. I learned a lot in the process.”
“The idea of a football team was just the hook. The true learning objectives of the class were around problem-solving, working as a team to deliver a project, research skills, and oral and written communication skills,” said Rose. “In short, the class aimed to provide students with a start on many of the skills that employers consistently claim need more development in college graduates. I also tried to provide an authentic context around which to build those skills. The cost and place of college football at leading universities is certainly topical.”
And now, what did the students determine is the best path for Binghamton in terms of establishing a football program?
That IF Binghamton got into the football game, it should be in Division I, not at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level where most of the money and publicity is focused, but at the Football Champion Subdivision (FCS) level, primarily for financial reasons. Binghamton would not likely be able to average at least 15,000 in attendance for home football games or meet the required scholarship threshold or annual spending mark for FBS programs.
Joining as an FBS team would “double our athletic cost right off the bat,” students said. “It’s out of our range.”
The median FCS cost would be about $3 million with no minimum attendance requirements, so though there would be fewer potential benefits for reputation-building, it would be a more feasible option, students said.
Next, what conference would Binghamton play in at the FCS level? After looking at more than a dozen, students determined that the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) would be the best fit based on travel, competitiveness and cost. The CAA also already includes two SUNY schools – Albany and Stony Brook.
Financially, Binghamton would have to invest more in scholarships, maintenance and salaries to launch a football program. Though revenues would increase by about $900,000, expenses would grow by approximately $3 million. But that’s not the only factor to consider, students said. They also looked at the costs associated with building a stadium, and what adding a football program would mean for Binghamton’s Title IX compliance.
The cost to construct a stadium to accommodate 7,000 spectators came in at about $25 million, the students estimated. One possible financing solution they investigated was to locate the stadium on land in Johnson City owned by the local Industrial Development Agency, already prepared for construction. The University could rent the land for $1 per year for 50 years and the stadium could be built using tax-exempt bonds with no risk to the University and minimal risk for investors, students said.
The indirect costs of complying with Title IX were more complicated, but basically, adding a football program would cause a domino effect, forcing Binghamton to adjust some of its other athletics programs to comply with Title IX requirements for equality between male and female athletes in three areas: participation, athletic financial aid and treatment.
By adding a football program, students said Binghamton would have to cut some other men’s athletic programs and add some women’s programs.
Putting Binghamton in context
More than 80 percent of FBS revenue is generated through ticket sales, donations and conference payouts, whereas more than 70 percent of FCS revenue at the Division I level without football is allocated through fees, institutional and state support.
Though a single fee increase to students of $300-$500 would help, Binghamton can’t rely 100 percent on the mandatory intercollegiate athletic fee (currently at $256.50 per semester), which supports about 38 percent of Binghamton’s athletic budget, a percentage much higher than other FCS schools.
In addition, SUNY caps fee growth, so without a student referendum supporting the single fee increase, it can’t happen, so revenue to support a football program would have to come from other sources. Possibilities include stadium naming rights, game guarantees if Binghamton played an FBS team, donor support and licensing fees.
Finally, the students addressed a foundational question: Do students and alumni want this?
“Why do we want football? Does our community, students and alumni want football? Does it fulfill the University’s mission? How does football fit in?” they asked.
Overall benefits of establishing a football program could include increased national reputation, expanded alumni connections, increased community involvement, enhancement of student recruitment and recruitment of students for a marching band, as well as increased school spirit, students said.
However, they found that whether or not Binghamton has a football program is not currently impacting prospective students’ decisions to enroll at Binghamton.
“We don’t know if having a team will change that in the future,” they said.
But do students really want football? Focus groups and surveys conducted by the class indicated students would enjoy having a football team, but felt it wouldn’t be in the University’s best interests. They agreed school spirit and name recognition would improve, but only 24 percent of respondents supported the highest possible fee increase. Eighty-three percent would agree to some level of fee increase – the same percent of respondents that said they would attend games. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they would enthusiastically support attending games.
From an alumni perspective, a football program would help increase school spirit, recognition and donations, students suggested, but there was a 50/50 split when alumni were asked whether they would attend games.
Overall, students in the class agreed with the majority of student/alumni feedback that there are certain benefits to a football team, but it may be better to focus on existing programs.
When they talked to other students, members of the class learned that students don’t realize the level Binghamton would play at. “They assume we will play FBS and they don’t know that’s not viable,” the students said. “And they don’t understand funding and how difficult that would be. We collectively came into it thinking football would be great, but when we got into it we realized it’s not really feasible.”
Financially, football at the FCS level is feasible, but that kind of money could be used for a lot of other things.
Title IX compliance causes some issues in terms of athlete proportionality and financial distribution.
There are several options for financing the project, including a single student athletic fee increase or a gradual student one, though some may not be viable.
It will be important to decide if the addition of a football program fits the University’s mission.
There is ambivalent support from students and alumni regarding addition of a football program.