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EMU AD defends spending millions on failing football program

Apr 29, 2016

Eastern Michigan University was featured in an episode of HBO's Real Sports, highlighting athletic departments that are losing money and students who are footing the bill. Many have suggested, including Michigan Radio's John U. Bacon, that the school's struggling football program should be dropped or at least moved down to a lower division.

According to HBO's report, the university lost $52 million over the last two seasons and the majority of those losses are paid for by students and taxpayers. EMU's athletics budget is about $34 million with 80% of that subsidized. 

EMU athletic director Heather Lyke joins Stateside to explain the state of the Eagles' sports budget. Lyke says EMU is not exploring a move to a lower division.

"Division I is where we will be. It is not a conversation that we are having, or a debate or an analysis that we are studying at all," said Lyke. "We are going to remain committed to a Division I athletic program and remain committed to the Mid-American Conference. And remain committed to Division I football."

Lyke says leaving Division I would deliver a major financial blow to the university with the loss of TV and NCAA playoff revenue sharing, in addition to a $2.5 million fine for leaving the conference, and numerous buyouts for games that are scheduled through the 2021 season. Lyke estimates that the buyouts would total somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million.

The school has enjoyed plenty of success at the Division I level. According to Lyke, no team in the MAC conference has won more conference championships (134) than Eastern Michigan. However, the football team, which represents a majority of the athletics budget hasn't had a winning season since 1987 and has had just seven winning campaigns in the school's 41 years as a Division I program.  

Another financial challenge? Losing teams make it hard to attract fans to the stadium. EMU has 134 MAC titles among the other sports, but the football team has had just seven winning seasons in 41 years, and the per-game attendance of around 10,000 ranks dead last in the country at the Division I level. 

Is there a demand for football at EMU?

"The demand is in the belief that its a value to the university," said Lyke. "The pride that it does bring back, and the qualities that intercollegiate  athletics teaches young people, I think are irreplaceable."

Listen to the full interview below to hear more about the challenges facing the Eastern Michigan athletic program.