EMU athletics spending under the microscope in wake of HBO Real Sports investigation

The last time he was on the radio with me, Howard Bunsis, the president of the Eastern Michigan University chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), mentioned that he’d just filmed a segment for HBO’s Real Sports. The segment, he said, was going to be about EMU’s exorbitant spending on athletics, and how the academic mission of the university had been suffering as a result… Well, the Real Sports episode just aired for the first time last night, and now the EMU administration is scrambling to deal with yet another public relations crisis, as everyone is beginning to ask how it’s possible that, over the past two years, the athletic department lost $52 million putting losing teams in front of almost non-existent audiences, all while cutting faculty positions and raising tuition. Here’s a clip from the segment featuring Bunsis.

If you want to know more, and don’t have HBO, just listen to my last interview with Bunsis on the Saturday Six Pack. While we were primarily discussing the faculty’s vote of “no confidence” against the EMU regents, Bunsis went into some detail about sports spending on campus, telling us that, while 20 faculty positions had been eliminated in recent years, 8 new coaches had been hired. “The academic side (at EMU),” he said, “is being starved,” while athletic spending continues to rise, as administrators continue to gamble with student tuition dollars, hoping that a winning football program might boost enrollment, revenue and alumni donations. It’s just not working, though. Here’s Bunsis telling us how, while EMU is in the top 20 schools of its size when it comes to athletic spending, attendance at home football games is the lowest of any Division I football program in the United States.


Following, with a little more on the University’s response to the Real Sports story, is a clip from Terry Foster’s most recent piece for CBS Detroit.

…Eastern Michigan University is doing a thorough self-examination that could change the landscape of the school’s athletic and academic programs.

Should it keep football? Should the football program drop to Division II? Should the school continue to subsidize athletes by siphoning moneyfrom academics? HBO dropped a bomb on the school Tuesday night during a Real Sports program that said the athletic department lost $52 million the last two years and ranks last in Division I football attendance.

But EMU Regent Jim Stapleton said some of the measures the school is considering were in the works before the Wednesday firebomb came out.

“The HBO special in no way shape or form prompted the regent’s actions,” Stapleton told CBS Detroit Wednesday morning. “We have been thinking about and analyzing our overall academic and athletic expenditures for at least the last several months. Any decisions made won’t be because of HBO. You don’t have to be Kirk Herbstreit or Desmond Howard to know we have a problem with our football program. But it has nothing to do with our current football coach Chris Creighton who is a good man and a good football coach. But so was (former) coach Ron English.”

Why does Eastern Michigan University have football?

Real Sports questioned why schools across the country siphon money from academics to athletics. For example the program said Rutgers lost $312 million over the past 10 years. HBO also visited EMU in February and finally released their findings on Tuesday.

One EMU economics professor estimated that students pay an annual athletic tax of $1,000 a year for a football program that has not had a winning season in 20 years and draws hundreds to games.

They can paint the field grey, blue, black or green and can sledge hammer as many brick walls as they want, but few come to The Factory.

So why keep football?

“That’s a fair question,” Stapleton said. “That is one of the things we are evaluating but we are not at the point of making a decision now. You get into football because you believe if you win you will have a school pride experience, increased enrollment and development. When you don’t win those things don’t happen and it has not happened (at EMU) for a while. It starts in that you examine everything. This is the process we are going through at this time”…

So, what do you think? Is it time for Division I football to go at EMU?

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  1. Joe M.
    Posted April 20, 2016 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Outside of the chip on their shoulder block mentality of some hardworking EMU students that either were turned down by or couldn’t afford UM’s sticker price, I don’t know a single EMU student that is really proud to have gone to the university.

    Usually it’s the cheapest 4 year degree option, it’s close to commute for most of the Detroit metro area, or they have some convenient programs like their accelerated BSN program.

    The only justifications for having a football team – promoting on campus attendance, school spirit, and donations – have all terribly failed at Eastern. The only people getting something out of the athletic department at EMU are the athletes themselves, a paltry percentage of the overall student body.

  2. Rat
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    But the football program at EMU builds character!


  3. Real Names Are Hazardous Here
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Remember that time when for months EMU covered up the fact that a rape/murder had occurred and the perpetrator was at large in order to avoid losing enrollment?

  4. Eastern Makes Unemployment
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    But the other kids do it! Come on…please…the other colleges are doing it too and if I show up without a football team they’re all gonna make fun of me.

  5. Citywatch
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Many of the students at EMU are commuter students and would not drive in for sporting events regardless of winning or losing teams. I think there should be sports available for students who want to persue them, but the sports programs at EMU should all be school sponsored intramural sports. No salaried coaches (hourly pay for men and women who serve in other university capacities perhaps) and no sports scholarships. That being said, you would have to wonder how to utilize the marching band and continue to certify a sports trainer program without official sports programs to support them. I don’t know about these or other internal programs the sports activities support. I DO know that every time I drive by the big white practice dome next to the football stadium I wonder what else could have been done with that money.

  6. Eel
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Good work, Professor Bunsis.

  7. Norman Tervo
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    They just need to hire John Harbaugh.

  8. Andrew Maniotes
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Joe- your reasoning based on “people you know” not being proud of EMU is faulty and anecdotal. I probably know quite a bit more students and alumni than you, and have seen polled data. I can tell you we have students who choose EMU for various factors outside or in addition to costs (field of study, location, smaller class sizes) . There are also many good reasons to go to U of M (facilities, experts in your field, more equipment, employment network), but I’m sure you can probably name some who go for the prestige or to “party”…. not the field they are studying. I wouldn’t recommend that.

    I suspect someone who would choose a school for mainly for partying and football probably doesn’t do well in their field of study, so I’m glad I’m not seeing those types of students.They probably wouldn’t do well in my classes.

  9. Posted April 21, 2016 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Concurrent with this news, we in Biology were told that the University is considering selling EMU’s field station (Fish Lake – http://www.emich.edu/extended/online-offcampus/upnorth/fish_lake.php). This site is HUGELY valuable to our students and our programming, and losing it would be a real tragedy. The possible sale price is a drop in the bucket compared to $52 million, so this feels like a real kick in the teeth.

    One of our graduate students set up a Facebook page opposing the sale–please join and help us get the word out! I am sure there are lots of ways that many other departments could use this wonderful facility.

  10. Anthony Gentile
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I don’t think so. In a lot of areas (both urban and rural), football gives kids something to do that keeps them busy and out of trouble. Of the kids I know who have recently gone to college, sports have been a big factor in their lives. While many would say that it detracts from education, I believe that while it may in some cases detract, that overall it does the opposite for many kids. Lots of kids find incentives to do better at school because of sports. Whether it is a lower achieving student keeping their grades up to be able to participate, or a higher achieving student doing better so they can play college sports and maybe even get scholarship money to go to a better school… There are many ways in which sports provide an incentive for kids to perform better in school.

    Also, football is a huge sport and in many areas with less money, it may be one of the few sports that kids can play. Not every school has lacrosse, swimming, hockey, field hockey, even soccer. So in those lesser advantaged areas, football may be one of the few options for kids to participate in. And since football teams hold large rosters, they offer more chances for kids to be on the team than other sports like basketball. Closing off that avenue could unintentionally close out kids who don’t have money for a university but are athletic and talented enough to get an athletic scholarship. I think a lot of us don’t look at this whole picture when evaluating the benefits of college sports.

    Now if we are debating the merits of football as far as concussions, other injuries, culture of violence… That’s another debate.

  11. Andrew Maniotes
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    “Of the kids I know who have recently gone to college, sports have been a big factor in their lives”

    Anecdotal reasoning at best.

    Other options:
    – not being Division one. the games would still exist same as Ferris.
    – Intramurals and clubs

    Going to division 2 would save money on the coaching (the Ferris football coach makes less). If any EMU football coach turns it around and gets a winning season, or gets to a bowl…. I’m betting they apply to another school for… MORE MONEY. THen EMU, if history is an indication, will hire a new coach for…MORE MONEY

  12. Anthony Gentile
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    What? Do you want the names and addresses of my nieces and nephews and exactly what their GPA and athletic status are? I didn’t know I was writing a thesis. You didn’t provide any footnotes for your info, so that’s hearsay at best. Lol.

    But I do agree that going D2 is a viable option. Although I’m not sure how to validate my opinion.

  13. Mr. X
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Can we all just agree that D2 would be a legitimate option?

  14. Anthony Gentile
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I agree with Andrew concerning his response to Joe. That’s bullshit that people don’t take pride in going to Eastern and/or that they only come here because they can afford it. They have many quality programs and I know many graduates of Eastern that have excellent careers. I didn’t want to go there because half of my high school went there and I wanted to get away. But likewise, many of those people I graduated high school with went to EMU and now have quality careers.

    Also, people should be proud of hard work and education regardless of whether they go to Washtenaw or U of M. If you know people who got degrees at EMU and aren’t proud of them, they likely squandered their time in Ypsilanti.

  15. Anthony Gentile
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I agree D2 is a great option. Would all sports then compete at D2 level? I don’t know how that works.

  16. Anthony Gentile
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Hey Andrew Maniotes, I was just being a jerk. Please accept my apology.

  17. Andrew Maniotes
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    No worries.

  18. Anoymous
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Does anyone believe that the regents were seriously looking at this prior to the story airing on HBO?

  19. Maria Huffman
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    It was good to see Howard Bunsis out and about.

  20. Dan
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink


    Why is your speculation better than someone else’s anecdotal evidence?

    “I’m sure you can probably name some who go for the prestige or to “party””

    “I suspect someone who would choose a school for mainly for partying and football probably doesn’t do well in their field of study”

    ” I’m betting they apply to another school for… MORE MONEY. “

  21. T.H.
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Let’s just close EMU. With public education going away there’s no more need for a teaching school.

  22. Real Names Are Hazardous Here
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    This is just disgusting. I’m ashamed to have a degree from EMU.

  23. kjc
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    “I’m ashamed to have a degree from EMU.”

    anecdotal evidence at best.

  24. M
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Are there examples of what other universities have done with their stadiums when they disbanded football programs?

  25. Tommy
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Here is the best option. I believe I have posted it before at some point on this site a long long time ago. Drop football. Leave the MAC. Join the Horizon League where basketball is the primary money making sport. Natural rivalries would instantly exist with Oakland U and U of Detroit Mercy. Instantly compete for league championship in most sports. By dumping the money sucking black hole of football you save millions. Downside is that by getting rid of 85 scholarships this would possibly lead to a reduction in womens scholarships too

    Being a proud grad and being fully aware of the handling of many a past ‘crisis’, this will not end well. Would love to see the student body rose up and demand a change.

  26. Tommy
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    One more thing. The dome – when not collapsing on itself – actually makes pretty good money from rentals for indoor soccer.

  27. Real Names Are Hazardous Here
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    kjc, I have seen polling data to back it up!

  28. Joe M.
    Posted April 21, 2016 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Sorry I kicked your dogs.

    The only really legitimate program EMU can tout on a statewide or national level is their education program, which was great. Most commuters – which is the overwhelming majority of the population – just want to get in and out as quickly as possible. From class with their speeding down Forest or Washtenaw and from EMU/Ypsi in general. I’m sure there’s a very passionate sub-section of EMU students – probably those that care to live in the area – that are involved and want to improve matters.

    @Tommy: Horizon League would be good. They could even follow suit with Butler in downgrading to D-I/FCS, if not D-II.

  29. Paula Gardner
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    What I’ve seen over the years involving EMU: There is school pride. It just rarely reaches football. I don’t blame EMU for trying. Many students want that as part of their campus experience. An athlete in another sport (a very successful one) told me that last fall, and it stuck with me.
    However, nothing has worked. I believe the spending toward the lack of success is on administration’s radar. But the Eagles/Hurons move still lingers among some people, and the few football supporters are very vocal. It’s too bad that it has to reach a crisis before there is public discussion of alternatives.
    Here’s an editorial from a few years ago – before The Factory.

  30. Jim
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Much to consider here:

  31. Real Names Are Hazardous Here
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    @Paula Gardner or other informed parties, what’s up with the discrepancy between the $11M athletic budget in that 2013 article and the $30-something million cited for the last two years? Has there been a giant increase or is it just being counted differently?

  32. Joe M.
    Posted April 24, 2016 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    The lower figure could be AD revenue, while the higher figure includes the $20-odd million in general/student fund subsidies for the athletic department.

  33. Meta
    Posted April 25, 2016 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    From today’s Detroit Free Press.

    Eastern Michigan University should drop out of Division I football and find a different league for its other sports, all in order to save students money, a new report issued by the university’s faculty and students says.

    “Culturally and geographically, EMU football will simply never succeed from an attendance and financial standpoint,” faculty member Howard Bunsis, who helped prepare the report, said in a presentation to the Board of Regents on Friday. “It is a losing proposition – always has been, and always will be. We hardly raise any money for football, and our attendance is the lowest in the country. Some of you believe that we are close to succeeding, if we just throw more money at the situation. This proposition is insane.

    “This has nothing to do with our performance on the field, or the quality of our coaches. Our coaches are good people and dedicated professionals. They are fighting a losing battle that cannot be won. Each and every one of you needs to reassess why you are here; if you have any sense of what is right for EMU, you will drop EMU from Division I football as soon as possible. How can you sit there and justify throwing millions of dollars away?”

    Getting rid of Division I football is a moral imperative – it will save students money and lower student debt, the report said. The report also found that each student paid $917 out of pocket to support athletics at Eastern. “Should the university be saddling students with unnecessary debt for athletics programs that added little to no value to their education?” the report says.

    The answer, at least according to the faculty and student government, is no. But the report doesn’t argue for Eastern to completely withdraw from sports.

    Read more:

  34. Meta
    Posted April 26, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Eastern Michigan Vice President and Director of Athletics Heather Lyke to the press: “There’s no question football needs to improve. We have the right leaders in place here to make that happen.”

    Despite its football program’s woes in collecting wins and attracting fans over the past two decades, Eastern Michigan Vice President and Director of Athletics Heather Lyke wants outsiders to see a bigger picture.

    Lyke found herself Monday explaining the EMU athletic program’s historical success, collecting 134 conference championships across 21 sports since it formed in 1973 – the most of any MAC program. She also pointed out its more recent success, capturing the MAC’s Cartwright Award for the first time in school history in 2013-14, which based upon the criteria of excellence in academics, athletics and citizenship.

    Many people don’t see the value all of those programs – including football — but their intangible qualities bring value to the campus that goes far beyond a bottom line, Lyke said responding to a recent report from university faculty, including the EMU-AAUP, which was provided for the Board of Regents on Friday, suggesting that the athletic department drop its football program.

    “The biggest thing is we’re really proud of what the athletic department is able to contribute,” Lyke said. “The fact that we’re on ESPN for four football games this year gives us a chance to talk about our university and we see ourselves as an integral part of the university. We’re all working together – well there are a couple that aren’t – but we appreciate the value they see and the support they give our 21 sports.”

    Read more:

  35. Rat
    Posted April 30, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    The EMU Athletic Director was on the radio yesterday and it was horrible.


One Trackback

  1. […] Mark Maynard has a good post here where he quotes from a long news story where EMU Regent Jim Stapleton claimed that the board was looking at “everything,” including football. The Freep has a story here with the predictable “not planning on cutting athletics but all option are on the table,” but at the same time maintaining the idea that participating in division one athletics is an “investment” by the university. MLive followed with a story of its own and the usual hater of all things EMU comments. […]

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