We appreciate the opportunity to respond to the recent editorial about UNO athletics ("Keep UNO in Division I, Commentary, Sept. 6).
First, let us state that, yes, the University of New Orleans would prefer to have remained Division I and avoided the financial circumstances we find ourselves in. But the reality is that, just like many American families right now, we can't afford the most expensive model on the market. Fortunately, there is an alternative that is not only affordable but will allow us to succeed.
While it is heartening to see such prominent people concerned with the future of UNO athletics, it's unfortunate that the figures referenced in the editorial are factually incorrect. The idea that it would only cost only an additional $100,000 to remain Division I is simply wrong.
From 2006 to 2009, the university gave direct subsidized support to athletics in an amount exceeding $1 million per year. Under the previous athletic director, the athletic department ran a deficit averaging nearly $1.5 million per year on top of the annual subsidy — even as UNO had five fewer sports than the minimum number required by the NCAA.
The current accumulated debt the athletic department must still pay off is $5.5 million. Between the university subsidy and the debt, that is an annual gap of more than $2.5 million. It is also important to note that even as the department overspent, the UNO athletics budget was still in the lowest quarter of nonfootball Division I schools in the nation. Clearly this was unsustainable.
These budgets are public record and anyone can review them. It is evident that in those years, the foundation was not laid to operate a successful Division I program in a post-Katrina environment. To ignore this fact and these verifiable numbers by stating that there is only a $100,000 difference is flagrantly misleading.
In order for UNO to have a healthy athletic program, it needs fan and community support. Even in successful seasons in Division I, only several hundred fans, on average, attended baseball and basketball games. That kind of attendance cannot sustain a Division I program.
There has also been a lack of significant fundraising support. In spite of considerable attention brought to the plight of UNO athletics, the only major donation to materialize in recent years was from the estate of Wick Cary.
Lastly, in the spring of 2009, UNO students voted down a proposal to increase the student athletic fee. These factors have forced us to assess this situation with a strong sense of reality.
While the analysis mentioned in the editorial has not been shared with UNO administrators, multiple analyses have been done on this issue, including an entirely independent assessment by Collegiate Consultants in February. Each analysis has pointed to moving to Division II as key to future success.
In the Division II Gulf South Conference, UNO athletics will be self-sustaining and no longer a financial burden to the university. Going Division II is also the way UNO will be able to add intercollegiate football, and the Division II scholarship structure will help improve the University's bottom line because more student-athletes will be paying tuition.
With winning teams, fundraising will strengthen, attendance will grow and sports can be added. This is the path to success that the University has chosen.
We encourage UNO supporters around the region to demonstrate your commitment to the University and its athletic program. We need your help right now, and together we can all succeed.
Joe M. King
UNO interim chancellor
president, UNO International Alumni Association
president, Privateer Athletic Foundation