GVSU sports subsidies support Division II argument

GVSU subsidized $12.2 million for athletics in 2015; lower than WMU, CMU and EMU

By Danny Schwartz | 8/31/16 11:35pm

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Workers put the final touches on Lubbers Stadium's new video board. Grand Valley State football hosts its annual media day at Lubbers Stadium on Thursday, August 25, 2016.
by Kevin Sielaff and Kevin Sielaff / The Lanthorn

Grand Valley State’s sports teams have been incredibly successful for years. GVSU’s varsity athletic teams have won 14 national championships in six sports, and have been national runners-up 13 times in eight different sports.

GVSU athletics have no problem with winning every year, so the question is raised: Why doesn’t GVSU move from a Division II school to a Division I school? The answer to that question goes hand-in-hand with the question of why and how GVSU pays less in athletic subsidies compared to other in-state public universities.

“Division II is just overall less costly than Division I,” former GVSU Athletic Director Tim Selgo said. “Students at Central, Eastern and Western Michigan all have to pay a much larger subsidy for their athletic program to be in Division I. And if you look at our overall annual budget for college athletics at GVSU, it’s about one third the cost of athletics at, for example, Western Michigan."

Among Michigan’s Division II schools, GVSU actually spends the most with $15.6 million toward institutional funding in 2015. However, GVSU generated the most revenue, reaching $3.7 million from camps, donations, concessions and ticket sales.

Michigan’s in-state Mid-American Conference (MAC) schools Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan all spend significantly more in sports subsidies than GVSU. In 2015, WMU spent $25.8 million ($1,080 per-student), CMU spent $19.4 million and EMU spent $27.3 million.

Selgo also believes not spending as much on GVSU’s athletic programs in recent years has helped the overall growth of the university.

“Just look at the growth of GVSU in the past 15 years,” he said. “With all the new academic buildings we’ve added, all the new housing we’ve added, the brand new library and learning center that we have. We were able to do all of those things as an institution because we weren’t spending all that money on our athletic programs.

GVSU’s athletic subsidy rounds out to $12,198,807. These institutional funds include student fees, direct institutional support as well as indirect institutional support. This strategy has given GVSU great success with enrollment. Over the past decade, while EMU, WMU and CMU have lost students, GVSU has grown by more than 3,000.

Keri Becker, who took over for Selgo as GVSU’s athletic director in July, believes GVSU’s athletic program does a great job of setting priorities and spreading the funds accordingly.

“It’s not necessarily being Division II as the reason we have less costs, because Lake Superior, for example, is Division II and they pay more,” Becker said. “So that brings up the question of how we can be so successful without spending near as much per student.”

In the 2014 fall semester enrollment, the per-student cost for GVSU’s institutional support for athletics was $486.12, while Lake Superior State, EMU and WMU were over $1,000 paid per student, with less athletic success.

President Thomas Haas likes the direction the GVSU athletic program is heading, and is content with it as a Division II program.

“Part of the DNA of GVSU is to use all of our resources as best we can,” Haas said. “Most of the dollars that we get are from student tuition dollars so we want to make sure we use them properly and get a good return for students as well. We want to make sure that the dollars are stretched as far as they can, and at the same time give our student athletes the tools to succeed.”

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