Why we wrote about sports and tuition

On a warm September morning (a faraway concept this week), I was clearing past issues of this publication from racks across campus when I glanced at the cover of USA Today.

The Sept. 21 issue of the nation’s biggest newspaper featured an in-depth cover spread on how much students at universities with massive Division I athletic departments contribute to their schools’ sports programs through mandatory athletic fees.

A localized story idea was born and then grew as our staff discovered that Mercyhurst does not list such a fee, but sports programs here still reap a significant portion of the student tuition dollar.

A $10.8 million portion in 2009-10.

Our goal in publishing these numbers was not to push an agenda.

It would have been easy to spin our coverage into saying that the athletic department’s annual budget is wasteful, unnecessary and in need of reform.

That is an aged and biased argument that does not have a place in any balanced news publication, such as the one we strive to produce each Tuesday night.

Still, it is worthwhile for the paying customers of this college to know where their money is going.

I am fortunate to hardly be able to count myself among them. I piled up debt during two years as a student at Bowling Green State University, where, according to USA Today’s report, I directly contributed more than $1,200 in athletic fees during a 21-month stay.

In May 2009, I decided to transfer to Mercyhurst, where I could save money with a parent on faculty. Despite this benefit—for which I remain grateful to Mercyhurst—I am no less conscious of the value that each dollar carries when a student invests in a college education.

And after speaking with several college officials and members of the athletic department, staff writer Tori Pepicello and I discovered that no administrator here thinks they are playing with monopoly money.

As in any department, there are important calculations behind each decision made regarding the use of student tuition to support varsity sports.

We were also certainly not seeking to alienate anyone in the athletic department. Personally, there are few experiences I have enjoyed more during my four-plus sports seasons here than photographing and writing about our student athletes and their events.

To a certain extent, those images and stories would not be possible without funding 24 varsity sports programs.

Yet if you feel strongly one way or the other about how the college allocates tuition money, please let us know. Our e-mail addresses can be found below.

We will gladly run each response online throughout Christmas Break.