The Board of Regents for the University System of Georgia ordered its auditing staff to conduct a first-ever, top-to-bottom examination of the programs at the 30 schools that offer intercollegiate sports. It promises to be comprehensive, including finances, facilities, operations and compliance with the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the requirements in federal law known as Title IX mandating equal provisions for men’s and women’s activities.
Since the auditors are accountants by training, they are being advised by a handful of athletic directors from various schools within the system. They are just beginning their work and hope to have a report to the regents early next year.
“I expect we’re going to see a lot of variety,” said John Fuchko, the system’s chief auditor and associate vice chancellor.
The variety will be due to the range of schools, from the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech which have garnered national championships in multiple sports including their big-time football programs, to the College of Coastal Georgia which just competes in men’s basketball, golf and tennis and five women’s sports.
For decades, the regents’ policy was to butt out of the operation of athletics, leaving all the decisions to individual schools. That changed in March of last year when Kennesaw State University was seeking to launch football and Savannah State University wanted to move up to Division I.
When the board approved both requests, it also revised its policy to one of greater oversight in the 30 programs.
As a result of the Atlanta staff staying on the sidelines, each program evolved separately.
“When you compile all the data, you’re going to be amazed,” said Regent Donald Leebern. “You’ll see some with $100 million budgets and some with a $1 million budget.”
Indeed, the UGA Bulldog football team is valued at $90 million alone, according to Forbes magazine. Its $53 million annual profit places it at the top of the Southeastern Conference and third-most profitable in the country, by the magazine’s figuring.
Savannah State, on the other hand, just raised the athletic fee students pay to partially address a $5.9 million debt racked up since stepping up its competition. The team lost $970,000 last year.
“Our students understand and want us to be active and competitive in that conference,” said SSU Vice President Edward Jolly.
The schools’ athletic foundations will also get scrutiny, even though they are already subject to annual audits. Trustees have been notified. So, the review won’t just focus on the accounting, but also the management, including exploring the validity of well-known rumors that some university presidents use foundation funds for glossing over the costs of their bad judgment or for funding their perks like personal drivers.
Athletic programs are supposed to be self-supporting, at least when alumni gifts are counted. Typically, lucrative sports that draw fans, television contracts and playoff bonuses subsidize sports with smaller followings. Often, those are women’s sports.
Leebern predicted that the coaches will be as eager to see the report as the regents because they’ll be looking for evidence of inequity between men and women.
“You’ll have a little pushback on that,” he warned.
One expected benefit from the process is closer cooperation between athletic directors at the various schools. They don’t regularly meet with each other now, although it’s common for them to meet with colleagues within the conferences their teams compete in.
During the review, they’ll be able to share ideas on common issues, such as safeguarding students’ health and assuring academic success.
“Even though we have competitive teams on the playing field, we hope we can take some of these ideas to share,” Fuchko said.
How each school is coping with the major trends in student sports could bring insights. But Fuchko said his staff isn’t going to tackle the most controversial one, the angling of athletes to form labor unions in order to win financial compensation.
And he cautioned the regents not to expect a list of simple policy recommendations that can apply to all of the schools. The diversity is too great, he said.