Monday, November 14, 2016

Real Talk or Disingenuous Argument?

I've really enjoyed UT Arlington President Vistap Kharbhari from afar. The University's enrollment has grown, alumni engagement is the best I've ever seen, he has been present at most every, if not all athletic events that I've attended and I see him all over social media and University releases. I don't know him personally, other than a few casual interactions, but my impression is that he is a quality President and a quality person.

That's why I was somewhat shocked to here something he said recently. One of his interactions with the UTA community is a somewhat regular event called Pizza with the President. It's generally a noon time event where students eat and ask the President a question. The questions vary depending on the season and current events, but there is always one that comes up - football.

The most recent Pizza with the President was this past week, and as usual, he was asked that question. From a recap given by UTA's award-winning student newspaper, The Shorthorn.

Business freshman Jesse Labelle asked Karbhari about creating a football team in regard to Homecoming week.

At the beginning of the event, Karbhari said that unless College Park Center gets filled at the basketball games, he would not discuss football with anyone. Students will also need to raise $100 million, as that is the size of the endowment needed to build a football stadium.

The first reason is a completely unrelated attempt at correlation. It is also a reason that was given in the past and was proven to be false.

I'll start with the second point. For decades, UTA played in Texas Hall, a place so poor for basketball that coaches would try to get out of showing recruits the building at times. It was an awkward place to play, very few amenities for fans and players and seated 3,500.

For much of the 1990's until its end, UTA's home average attendance was less than 1,000. In many cases, almost 50% less than 1,000. I heard many times that the University would not build a new arena unless the University and Arlington community filled Texas Hall.

That never happened. In 2005, when then-President James Spaniolo announced intentions to build what would become College Park Center, UTA averaged 811. The previous year, UTA saw 931 on average per game (the team averaged 1,437 the last five games in a conference championship year). UTA has more than doubled attendance at CPC, and last year it was quadruple. Since CPC's opening, there have been nine crowds that drew more than Texas Hall's highest. That came in 1981. The University invested in the basketball program by building a quality place to watch and play and people have come out.

I get what he's trying to say. As a whole, you, the UTA community, need to support what we have. And I'm in full agreement with that philosophy. UTA for years played in front a largely apathetic fan base in most sports and lost its football team largely because of it.

But, moving from the second point to the first, basketball attendance and resurrecting a football program aren't anywhere near related. There are so many other factors involved. Geography, student body, demographics, etc. that have so much more say than an unrelated sports program.

UT-San Antonio, Lamar, Southeastern Louisiana and Houston Baptist are all nearby schools that started or resurrected a football program with basketball attendance lower than what UTA has now.

Looking at the SBC itself, there is no correlation between support for basketball and football. Last year, UTA was third in the SBC in attendance for its mens basketball games. They were behind Louisiana-Lafayette, who has been near the top of the SBC in that category in every sport for years, and Little Rock, who had an amazing run during a 30-win season.

I detailed how UTA's attendance trajectory is on the upward trend in all sports at the end of the athletic year. There is excitement surrounding UTA's sports teams, one that has hit a level I have never felt before. UTA was tooled to make runs at Southland championships, not national-level competition we are seeing now.

Saying we need to fill CPC first is a crutch to me. Plus it is so generic. Fill it how? What's the percentage? Sell-outs? What's the time frame? One year? Five? Several? That point is so generic as to be useless, which may be the greater point.

As for the price tag...there are so many ways to dissect that too.

Ignoring the fact that the quote from the Shorthorn says endowment to build the stadium, as endowments are set up for recurring expenses like scholarships or operating costs, I think his money quote misses the mark too.

What's the $100 million for? Using Texas State's renovation of their stadium, Bobcat Stadium, as a model, I calculated roughly $50 million, adjusting for inflation needed to get Maverick Stadium to FBS standards. Using the Nienas report from 2004 as a guide, UTA needs roughly $10 million for equipment scholarships and salaries. So what's the other $40 million for? Sounds like it is a random number to me pulled out of thin air.

Perhaps the difference might be the money needed for another sport to offset the Title IX implications of adding football. But UTA is already adding women's golf for a few hundred thousand. Not sure women's soccer, swimming, gymnastics, etc. need all that. 

But that $100 million also assumes UTA is going straight to FBS, which is a laudable goal but not necessary. The Mavs could play right away at the FCS level with minimal to no need for stadium renovations.

There is even a possibility of playing non-scholarship FCS, further reducing the financial strain. Before the idea gets dismissed, schools that have made names for themselves in basketball play in the Pioneer Football League, Butler, Davidson, Dayton, Drake and Valparaiso.

I know this gets tossed around a lot, but no other start-up needed $100 million. Using a real case study from a peer institution in the State of Texas that went straight to FBS. UTSA needed only $22 million over eight years. Prior to their first game, they only needed $2.6 million. Yes, they play in the Alamodome and have a sweet deal with the City of San Antonio, but that still backs my point up early. To play at Maverick Stadium, straight to FBS, UTA would need roughly $55 million, or a little more than half of what President Kharbhari said was needed.

The other $20 million UTSA calculated came after the sport began play, and when revenue began generation. UTA's Sun Belt brethren earn $1.5 million or more when they play a guarantee game. Each SBC team earns $1 million base from the College Football Playoff. There's more when incentives happen. Students have already pledged a student fee of $2 per credit hour up to 15 hours. That generates roughly $2 million if my calculations are correct. So before you factor in ticket sales, sponsorships, donations and other sources of revenue, the football program has already generated a minimum of $4.5 million annually. So very little of that $100 million is operating costs.

And then there's the matter of who sources that $100 million. Assuming the quote is accurate by the writer, President Kharbhari is suggesting the students raise that money? When have any fundraising operations been targeted at the student? Student fees are all I can account for. College Park Center and the Athletics fee are the only fees towards sports I can recall where a student pays for anything (and I think that CPC fee is dubious at best). Otherwise, like with CPC, University officials look to outside support. Carrizo Oil and Gas gave $5 million for CPC. Clay Gould and Allan Saxe renovations were financed by individual donors. I don't get where the students fork over any money, outside of that athletics fee mentioned, but that's for annual operations, and shouldn't be in start-up costs.

The thing is, I'm not against the stance, whatever it is. I'm a Maverick through and through. I believe a cross country championship is as valuable a basketball one (but I also know what society gravitates to). I'd like football, but I'd also like to add womens soccer. I'd rather hear an up front and honest answer. "We are not looking at football now" or "we are carefully analyzing everything, proceeding cautiously so as to maximize the opportunity for success" are much better responses to me.

When I hear something that is so easily defeated by simple fact checking and sounds blatantly false, I wonder why. The right proper way to deal with something like UTA and football is to be up front and honest. That answer sounded neither to me.

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