Florida State better start winning.
UCF better keep winning.
And anybody and everybody—even the vast University of Florida money-making machine—better remember the famous words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—and, oh yeah, bankrupt boosters who can no longer afford their luxury suites.”
Whether you’re talking pigskins or politics, it’s always about the economy, stupid.
“We’re definitely seeing it across the spectrum,” new Florida State Athletic Director Randy Spetman says of his department’s economic slump. “People don’t have the discretionary dollars that they’ve had in the past to spend on sports.”
Adds UCF Athletic Director Keith Tribble: “We understand that if you have to make a choice on whether to spend money on a sporting event or put food on the table and provide shelter for your family, you’re going to choose the latter.”
Speak for yourself, pal. When it comes to Florida-Florida State tickets or making the mortgage payment, guess what? . . . Hey, kids, we’re moving into grandma and grandpa’s travel trailer. Isn’t that exciting?”
The point we’re trying to make here is that winning has never been more critical in sports because, quite frankly, we just don’t have the money to support a loser. As the nation’s sports fans watch their 401(k) plans transformed into 4ks or their jobs being eliminated altogether, it’s becoming harder and harder to justify the thousands of dollars annually it takes to regularly attend college and professional sporting events.
Cars, real estate, newspapers, you name it and business is bad. But who would have ever thought it would come to this—Starbucks and Bobby Bowden both in the midst of an economic downturn?
Florida State is a prime example of what can happen when a once-proud program hits hard times. Although the Seminoles aren’t in panic mode yet, there is certainly major concern. Season-ticket sales are down because fans don’t have as much discretionary income. Corporate sponsors aren’t nearly as eager to support the program because their earnings are in the toilet. And it’s not like the school administration can supplement the lost revenue—not when all state universities are being decimated by legislative budget cuts.
The concern is this: How much longer will FSU fans from, say, Orlando, continue to fork out $4 a gallon for gas, drive eight hours round trip to Tallahassee and pay jacked-up prices and a two-night minimum for a hotel room just to see the Seminoles lose to Wake Forest?
“People that have come to the games in the past now may stay home and watch on television,” Spetman says.
Since taking over a couple of months ago, Spetman has been searching for ways to cut costs and save money. The same with Tribble at UCF, where 5 percent is being cut from marketing and other non-essential parts of the athletic budget. Those carefree days of universities annually rubber-stamping a 10-percent increase in their athletic budgets are seemingly over.
In these dire times, universities just can’t justify spending more and more on sports when less and less is being spent on education. Especially in the wake of a recent report released by the NCAA that showed college sports are actually money losers. According to the report, only 16 of the 119 schools with Division I-A football programs had athletic departments that generated a profit over the three years of the study.
Such facts have not been lost on the many critics of big-time college athletics. In a recent Parade magazine (in your Orlando Sentinel every Sunday, please subscribe today), Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said: “Some colleges seem more focused on beer and spectacle than teaching and learning.”
As the detractors grow and the 401(k)s shrink, winning is more vitally important now than ever before.
If you don’t believe it, you should have seen the inquiry from the fan on a Florida State football Web site Thursday.
“Any folks from Orlando or Tampa,” it said, “want to carpool to the games?”