As universities nationwide struggle to raise enough money to carry out their academic missions, presidents of the 12 universities in the Southeastern Conference are turning to a more reliable revenue source than their state legislatures: their sports teams.
The SEC, represented by the university presidents, recently signed a deal with ESPN worth more than $2-billion over 15 years, beginning in 2009. The conference also signed a 15-year contract with CBS worth about $55-million. The presidents met in Atlanta recently and decided to use the money for the greater good. "That money is going to be used in part — depending on the institution — to support the academic mission of the university," University of Florida president Bernie Machen said. "It's a huge amount of money, and it's a long enough period of time that the athletic programs can budget."
In another significant development, UF football coach Urban Meyer and basketball coach Billy Donovan are spearheading a drive to raise $50-million for the university's Opportunity Scholars Program, aimed at first-generation students whose families earn less than $40,000 a year. To qualify, students must have acceptable grades and strong recommendations. This announcement comes as the number of black freshmen has dropped and the median income of the families of freshmen has risen at UF from $72,000 in 1996 to $102,500 in 2006, the most recent year the survey was conducted.
These are winning moves all around. Valuable academic programs are being saved and bolstered, and deserving students are getting a chance to get a top-rate education. Television networks will never pay big bucks to broadcast biology, so it's smart to share the sports broadcast fees with academic programs that get less attention from state legislators than the football team.