Year in Sports

Disagreement surrounds SU’s payment of Big East conference exit fee

When it comes to paying Syracuse University’s Big East conference exit fee, faculty and staff just want the process to be fair.

“We’re a rational community,” said Robert Van Gulick, a philosophy professor. “If we disagree, it’s OK to say why, especially if you do it civilly and respectfully.”

During last Wednesday’s University Senate meeting, Van Gulick introduced a resolution calling for SU Athletics to pay for the Big East conference exit fee. In January, the Board of Trustees decided the entire university would pay the $7.5 million exit fee during a period of a few years, arguing the entire university will benefit from the move to the Atlantic Coast Conference

The resolution, which passed, is an expression of a majority opinion in the senate, and doesn’t have binding power.

The administration and Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Thompson are in the process of reviewing the resolution, and will get back to the senate, said Kevin Quinn, senior vice president for public affairs.

Regardless of whether the administration changes its mind, part of the point of the resolution is to get the administration and Board of Trustees to explain their reasoning for treating the exit fee as a university-wide expense, even if they still disagree, Van Gulick said.

When Kenneth “Buzz” Shaw was chancellor, he said, Shaw didn’t agree with a resolution passed by the senate on athletics, but he issued a public letter explaining his reasoning.

Van Gulick described the reasoning for introducing the resolution largely in terms of fairness.

When departments at SU look to generate more revenue by increasing their enrollment, for example, they pay costs related to expanding, such as hiring more faculty members, he said.

Areas that generate revenue are “taxed” a little more than 20 percent, Van Gulick said. This money goes toward institutions such as the administration, public safety and the library, which don’t generate revenue, he said.

SU Athletics is set to make more revenue in its first year in the ACC than the entire cost of the exit fee, according to the resolution Van Gulick presented at the meeting.

Athletics also receives $3.5 million more than it pays into the so-called subvention fund, a revenue-sharing pool, according to the resolution. But by fiscal year 2016, athletics will return about $9 million through added money in subvention and other assessments, according to the administration.

Van Gulick conceded SU Athletics has been “hard-pressed” during the past few years, but he said no one is asking the department to pay the entire fee at once.

Craig Dudzcak, chair of the senate’s Committee on Budget and Fiscal Affairs, said while presenting the committee’s report at last week’s meeting that the trustees had already “in effect made a decision,” but its members respectfully disagreed.

Senators such as David Bennett and Samuel Gorovitz — who mentioned it’s rare for the budget committee to disagree with the administration — voiced their support of the resolution.

On the other hand, Lou Marcoccia, executive vice president and chief financial officer for SU, said $7.5 million — about $2.5 million of which has already been paid — isn’t a “large or onerous obligation” to spread across the entire university.

Marcoccia said how the remainder of the fee will be spread out will be determined carefully. SU’s budget for fiscal year 2013 is more than $1 billion, according to the university’s Office of Budget and Planning’s website.

Most athletic programs receive some sort of subsidization, he said, and debt service payments on the Life Sciences Complex are being treated as a university-wide expense because the building is believed to benefit SU as a whole.

The administration and Board of Trustees also said the move to the ACC benefits the entire university, which is why the exit fee should be a university-wide expense.

“We felt there was a sufficient overall benefit to the university by the move that it would be appropriate for the entire university budget to absorb that exit fee,” said Joanne Alper, vice chair of the Board of Trustees and chair of its budget committee, in an interview before the meeting. This would come in the national exposure SU gets through the ACC and academic partnerships available with conference members.

After the senate meeting last Wednesday, Richard Thompson, chairman of the Board of Trustees, issued a statement echoing Alper’s points. In the statement, he said the board unanimously approved the decision during its meeting in January.

The Committee on Budget and Fiscal Affairs report addressed the administration’s view.

“While it is claimed that the benefits of membership in the ACC extend to the University as a whole, the claim is contested as the benefits are indirect,” according to the committee’s report.

—Asst. Sports Editor David Wilson contributed reporting to this article.

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