Football savings don't add up for statistician

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- Based on the accounting figures presented by former Tennessee Tech University Vice President David Larimore, dropping football at East Tennessee State University is the wrong decision.
   With spread sheets and other documentation, Larimore showed how dropping football at Tennessee Tech was averted by a harder look at the facts and figures than simply comparing gate receipts coming into the program to the expenses going out.
   "A similar decision could have been made at Tennessee Tech, a year ago or ten years ago, if not for this presentation to the faculty senate," said Larimore before speaking to a group Friday night at the Carnegie Hotel interested in bringing back the sport to the ETSU campus. "We had people questioning why spend all this money in football, when we have eight students to a worm in the biology department?
   "They were also asking about the school exploiting athletes."
   Larimore, who was invited to Johnson City by longtime ETSU trainer Jerry Robertson, showed how while the elementary numbers show football losing in excess of $1 million a year, the direct benefits of non-scholarship players paying for tuition, books and other supplies quickly make football a profitable venture.
   Based on a school of ETSU's size having 60 non-scholarship football players, Larimore figured in 60 more students coming to the university as friends of the players. He also counted 150 students out of an enrollment of 9,000 being influenced by whether a school has a football program.
   "Friends tend to go to college where friends go," said Larimore. "Assume with 120 football players, one out of every two go to school with a friend, that's 60 friends.
   "I put the other column separate in case of cynics. The economic professors at Western Kentucky did a similar analysis and the figures of 150 students attending a school because of it having a football program are modest."
   Taking the issue one step further, Larimore showed the overall benefits and exposure the university receives through football. It becomes the number one sport financially for a Division I-AA university.
   In the comprehensive presentation given by Larimore, it showed at Tennessee Tech, football's overall financial worth ranked No. 1 at $2,883,250 after expenditures, while the high-profile men's basketball program came in second place at $2,282,173.
   "It is an integral part of the university," said Larimore about college athletics. "There is an enormous social and economic value. Football is not expendable and it should not be minimized."
   One presentation showed that 90 percent of hits on Tennessee Tech's website are related to athletics and that 80 percent written about colleges is about sports.
   "If you want to become invisible then diminish sports," said Larimore, pointing out that N.C. State, Ohio State and Kentucky, schools he was educated at, are all noted for their athletic programs. "Change the status of the athletic program and you change the status of the university.
   "To a graduate going for a job interview or to a faculty member presenting at a conference, the institutional name recognition you get through athletics is vital. Visibility gives you credibility."
   On the issue of education and exploitation of athletes, Larimore pointed out that at Tech, those involved in sports have a 56 percent graduation rate to only 42 percent for the overall student population.
   He also showed how athletics has positively affected social change, particularly in the area of minorities. Twenty-four percent of athletes (with a higher percentage of the football team) at the Cookeville school were reported to be African-American compared to just over three percent in the overall student population.
   Most unfair, in his opinion, were the standards applied to football compared to other sports. One area he briefly mentioned, but will also suffer through the loss of football is the marching band. Other losses to the community like spending by visiting teams were also briefly covered.
   His analysis showed that using the accounting figures to end football at ETSU could easily be applied to any other sport. Larimore explained that the makeup of a basketball team with only two of the 15 players on the roster being non-scholarship put more of a financial strain on the school on a per-player basis.
   Larimore, who stated his day job consisted of teaching statistics and research methods, said that only three departments at a university are self-supporting - housing, food service and the book store because of state mandates.
   He used reports of national publications to show that the average Division I-AA school's budget in 2001 showed an overall $5.6 million in revenues to $6.8 million in expenditures.
   He appeared taken aback by ETSU President Paul Stanton's suggestion of a $30 million cost with a new facility needed to revamp the school's football program. Addressing the accounting figures used to end football at ETSU, Larimore stated, "A person ought to be able to do better than that."
   Larimore emphasized while he served as a volunteer Athletic Director for 17 years at Tech, his motives were based on what is essentially good for the university.
   "I never played or coached anything," stated Larimore. "I'm not into advocating because I'm an old jock. It's good for the institution.
   "What I'm hoping is this presentation helps when the time comes for the fund-raising effort and to keep football in people's minds."
   Others at the meeting expressed their frustration that the sport was dropped so quickly, pointing out that no previous fund-raising efforts included them.
   Recent graduate Bert Smith stated that he never has gotten one letter to support football.
   Jared Diehl, whose family have long ties to the university said, "Our family has supported ETSU and has given a total of four scholarships for academics and athletics. We have never been asked once what we could do to help save football."