App State Athletics Loses Money, Sends Students the Bill

We’ve all heard that Appalachian football coach Scott Satterfield left his $700,000 salary for an even higher salary elsewhere.  Athletics at Appalachian is expensive, and it’s not paying for itself.  In fact, Appalachian administrators have just proposed to the Board of Trustees a hike in the student fee for athletics from $760 a year per full-time student to $783 per year.  And this doesn’t include another student fee for athletics facilities debt reduction, which takes the total yearly fee each student pays for athletics to over $1,000.  That athletics facilities fee, although reduced slightly for next year, has increased nearly 200% since 2011.

The typical Appalachian student likely does not even realize that s/he is paying over $750 this year just to subsidize athletics.  A student might prefer to keep that $750 each year so as to borrow less in student loans, cut back on work hours so as to sleep or study more, increase the thermostat on cold winter nights, travel abroad, buy a mountain bike, or get a new laptop.

Athletics at Appalachian State loses about $20 million per year, and they force students to cover this operating loss annually.  Student fees pay for over half of the Athletics Department’s operations—more than ticket sales and donations do.  The athletic fee is higher than any other fee students pay, including for educational technologies, textbook rentals, co-curricular programs, and healthcare.  Sound too crazy to be true?  Take a look at how the 2018-19 student fees get allocated.

In 2011, when the university announced that it would move the football program from FCS to join the Sun Belt, then Chancellor Ken Peacock promised the move would not be made on the backs of students.  Since that year, however, the student athletic fee continues to increase.  Students are bankrolling increases in coaches’ salaries, charter flights, athletes’ scholarships, and many services for athletes.

But wait, an expensive football program is the face of the University, increasing our visibility, you might hear.  That’s an awfully expensive PR campaign.  With the same money, Appalachian could build stellar academic programs, fund all students to study abroad, invest in infrastructure that reduces our operating costs, or give start-up funds to student entrepreneurs.  Davidson, William & Mary, George Mason, Columbia, and MIT have all managed to build terrific reputations without costly football programs.  Those institutions have told students and the public, through their actions, that academics take priority over tailgate parties.

Athletics is not part of the university’s mission, and yet athletics gets the support it requests—in the very same week that the faculty was told that the University could find no way to fund salary increases.

Appalachian State is prioritizing athletic entertainment over educational opportunities, over faculty salaries, and over other opportunities to support academics.  The Office of Research is understaffed.  Some instructors have converted closets as offices, some share offices, and some have no offices at all.  The rising cost of higher education is a major problem, but not, as some seem to presume, because the faculty have cushy jobs and fat paychecks.

819uy05D6iL._SL1500_Our University is taking money from starving students (and local studies of food insecurity show that some of our students really are going hungry), who are borrowing money in the form of student loans, and then spending that money to pay for alumni and fan entertainment.

The Board of Trustees should oppose Appalachian’s plans for this student fee hike for athletics, and advocate to reallocate student athletic fee money to academics.  We’re not advocating that athletics go away, just for athletics to operate without forced student subsidies.  The BoT should let students keep their money and encourage an increase in ticket prices to fund athletics instead.  Football fans and alumni can afford higher ticket prices, and if they can’t afford to pay more for their football game tickets, well then they can take a loan to pay for it.

As always,the Appalachian State AAUP chapter favors open debate and strongly encourages readers to offer their thoughts in the “comments” section below.

This blog is run the Appalachian State University AAUP Chapter.  The opinions published herein do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP or any given individual member of AAUP.


14 thoughts on “App State Athletics Loses Money, Sends Students the Bill

  1. Very good argument. It is easy to see past results showing increased student applications and academic quality of incoming students during the times of the FCS National Championships and success at FBS.
    In the United States, football and basketball prominence are the calling cards of Universities. Over the last 10 years the sports have taken over and have gotten out of control.

    As far as AppState, I can agree and support that FBS has made my University far more recognizable. Could this have been accomplished by a $20mm investment in University programs? Possiblity, but not likely. Could AppState have the status of William and Mary? Maybe.

    The cost of college athletics is definitely out of control and only a small number of schools break even.

    How can alumni involvement and donations be increased without Athletics? What would AppState diversity stats look like without FBS football and D1 sports?

    The NC Legislative Branch must be pressured into supporting public education. They currently are a group that is just as satisfied to abandon it. They need to be reminded of the economic impact that the huge investment in higher education that the people of NC made through the first 90 years of the last century are why the state is successful.


    1. I agree. I think ‘keeping up with the Jone’s’ is a dangerous strategy. And the argument that everyone is doing it only works for people that don’t want to think. I think it is safe to say that we received as much attention in FCS as we do in FBS. I don’t think people care more about the Sun Belt than the Southern Conference or care more about the Dollar General Bowl than the National FCS championship. And I’m pretty sure it’s just as fun to watch Appalachian play Furman than UL Monroe. The costs are enormous and the benefits are marginal at best. The business model is broken and unfair. It is immoral. That $20 million should go back to students to make college more affordable, or directed at academics to make up for the damaging cuts of the past 10 years. Let’s not even get into the liability issues of brain damage associated with football. The university and college football should be scared of that shoe dropping.


  2. First off if you are going to write an article get your facts right. The move to FBS was announced either late 2012 or early 2013 after the playoff loss to Illinois St and was announced after Scott Satterfield was hired. It was during my sophomore year. Also, why compare Appalachian to private schools who charge their students 30000 dollars or more per year and you are worried about App State charging students around $750 to fund athletics. Should they start charging that much money and make students go an extra $10000 in debt? Obviously not, however at least you other NC public schools as examples.


      1. Doug. The feasibility committee recommended the move in 2011, and the Board of Trustees approved it in September 2011. The next year athletic fees jumped dramatically and have continued to increase faster than other fees. Athletic fees have even faster than tuition!! Also, Satterfield was hired in 2013, after the announcement but just before joining the Sun Belt.


    1. Doug, your comment misses the point and doesn’t speak to the point. First, William & Mary is public. And thee are plenty of public universities with excellent reputations that do not have FBS football, such as George Mason, College of Charleston, UC San Diego, etc. This isn’t a public vs. private issue. Well, actually it’s worse for public because it is wasting taxpayer money.

      Second, the move to FBS took many years to happen. It started in 2010 and gained steam in 2011. They raised athletic fees dramatically the same year the move was announced because it was part of the process. Thus, this post is not incorrect. The point stands. The administration promised not to put the cost of the move on the students’ back, but they have done so. Athletic fees have gone up over 50% since they made that promise. And the $750 is not all of it. The athletic facilities fee adds about $250 to the annual bill. Yes, they promised the facilities would be paid by donors, but when the donors didn’t step up, they turned to the students to pay for it.

      Third, nothing you write speaks to the issue and problem. Athletics has nothing to do with the mission of the university. Most of the ‘consumers’ of this entertainment are non-students. So why are students footing the bill for non-student entertainment? Because it’s a reverse robin hood scam. A regressive tax on poor students that benefits the rich alumni. And it is out of control. Athletic fees are the largest fee students pay. It makes up 15% of attending Appalachian. It generates $20 million a year, and it goes to fill the operating deficit of athletics. And this is after being promised that this would not happen.

      This would be less disturbing if academics received at least the same support and funding. But it isn’t. Athletic budgets skyrocketed while academic budgets were cut. Athletic salaries skyrocketed while academic salaries remained flat. Athletic facilities were expanded and upgraded while we have a serious shortage of academic space. So, the priorities are screwed up. It isn’t just Appalachian. This is a problem on campuses across the country. Not surprising we’re losing ground academically compared to the rest of the world. So, Athletics is doing well, but the academic quality at Appalachian is in decline. That is a problem. No that is a crisis. So it is bigger than students paying for non-student entertainment, which is obscene. It is screwed up priorities and the lack of care and interest in academics, which is the actual mission of the university. We’re ignoring the reason we are here. Imagine directing $20 million to improve academics at Appalachian. The administration could create programs that set us and our graduates apart. We could be known for stellar academic programs instead of winning the Dollar General Bowl. We could exceed our peers academically, which matters more than beating them athletically.

      And nobody is suggesting that football go away. Just live within your means. Act like every other operation instead of a socialist, subsidized program. Be a real viable operation by charging prices for tickets that would cover the cost. Give students the choice to buy tickets instead of forcing them to pay for it. Only spend money that you generate from your operations. Balance your books, don’t run a deficit, don’t lose money! They could survive, but they would have to live within their means. Stop tapping into the students like they are a bottomless pot of money. Stop living on someone else’s credit card (student debt) that half of the students will be paying back for 20 years. It’s fun living off other people’s money. You can have lots of fancy things. But it is obscene to take from students, many borrowing money, to pay for over half the cost of entertaining non-students.

      We need to get our priorities right. The university is not getting the support from Raleigh. The campus has less and less to work with. Wasting money is not an option any longer. Wasting taxpayer money is no longer an option.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am a proud graduate and received two sound degrees from ASU in the 90’s. To day that education is the backbone of a rewarding career and has opened doors that have led to my gratitude for the regionally acknowledged counseling program at ASU.
    I live in Louisville, Ky. The recent hiring of Scott Satterfield has created ambivalence with the fans of a D-1 university that has a tarnished reputation of corruption and unethical standards. One of the main reasons they hired him is they need someone with sound ethics and passion for students. Not many people have heard of ASU and for many Scott Satterfield will be their only connection to ASU. I can understand the point of these matters, money that is coklected as fees for athletics and the argument that they could be better used to bolster academic programs.
    Two points jump out at me as this city is ablaze with the question “Who is Appalachian State? Where is Appalachian State? What is Appalachian State?”
    Much like Donald Trump’s propoganda about making America “great AGAIN”, I have found the education I received at ASU to be of high quality and would send my children through that same program if they chose to enter my field. It prepared me very well. So I think there is already a high caliber academic standard in some departments at ASU.
    The second point is this. No matter how much you spin or flip the issue, Scott Satterfield’s hiring by the University of Louisville has brought a huge wave of name recognition to ASU that simply would not have happened otherwise. ESPN and other major media players have helped put ASU into households that might never have known about ASU. I don’t see athletics and building academic programs as mutually exclusive and I think striking a balance from the public awareness of ASU’s football success and using it to promote academics is where the new focus should be for the greater good of ASU.


    1. Yes, there is a balance to strike, but the problem is that it has become greatly imbalanced with Athletics dominating Academics. It became unbalanced as academics took more and more and more money from students to pay for non-student entertainment. Athletics needs to return to it’s reasonable place on campus, which would mean they should live within their means. Stop the ‘arms race’ in athletics, and start an ‘arms race’ in academics. Why not care about getting good faculty more than getting good coaches? Why not care about having ranked academic programs more than ranked athletic programs? Seems reasonable considering the mission of the university is academics, not athletics.

      App received more visibility beating Michigan as FCS than winning the Sun Belt. It’d be a mistake to think being visible to ESPN watchers is the goal. Nobody hiring anyone is confusing Alabama with Harvard. And don’t start with athletics attracting students. If someone goes to Alabama because of their football, Harvard would not want them, for good reason.


  4. The biggest tell that academics is not as important as athletics lies in the fact that the chancellor ‘s salary ($357,000 as of 2017) is far less than the head coach of the football team ($700,000). That is a shameful pay discrepancy. I graduated from Appalachian in 1994, but no longer call it my school because the changes have made it unrecognizable — and sadly not in a good way.


  5. I can respect your opinions about faculty not getting raises but I also don’t believe in “across the board” raises for everyone and I work at another state university. If your review shows you are doing a great job, then you deserve a raise, if it’s possible. As a proud ASU alum, I would like to ask to what do you contribute the steady rise in applicants and the increase in academic merits of each incoming class? Clearly, more and more students want to attend Appalachian and are applying every year. If the academics are suffering and it’s not athletics attracting them, then what is the drawing card? My son is currently waiting to hear from the admissions office and nothing would make him happier than to be accepted, and he has several other acceptances already. ASU is a highly regarded university amongst high school students and the application numbers prove it. I agree that the legislature needs to support our universities more and that ASU does not get a fair deal, but to get increased alumni investment you have to get them on campus and get them involved and football does that more than anything else. If alumni never step foot on campus after they graduate, they aren’t sending their donations or their kids to Appalachian State.


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