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Sports programs taking a beating, fine arts programs could be next

Sports programs taking a beating, fine arts programs could be next

Sports programs taking a beating, fine arts programs could be next
July 24
10:00 2020

On July 8, Stanford announced it will be cutting 11 of its varsity sports programs after the 2020-2021 season in response to the financial consequences of the pandemic, according to a report from ESPN. 

Stanford isn’t the only university feeling the weight of the pandemic on their athletic department. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Ivy and Patriot Leagues canceled all fall sports for the rest of 2020 resulting in 30 universities with slashed fall sports programs. 

It appears the pandemic isn’t anywhere near slowing down in time for the fall season and it’s only a matter of time before UNT faces the same financial and safety pressures.  

Cutting collegiate sports programs is unfortunate and saddening for athletes, coaches and fans, but it’s a story fine arts programs know all too well. Arts programs have taken a financial beating over the last 20 years and it’s only a matter of time before collegiate fine arts programs face the same drastic cuts as collegiate sports during the ongoing pandemic. 

Universities across the nation are grappling with how to practice social distancing, reduce in-person contact and protect their students and staff while attempting to maintain their sports programs and games. 

The NCAA released guidelines for COVID-19 testing, physical distancing, face coverings, daily self-health checks and training outside, but these guidelines assume that national testing and contact tracing would be implemented and enforced, according to a report from NPR.

A little closer to home, UNT’s athletic department released plans to return athletes, coaches and administrative staff to campus in four waves, featuring social distancing and COVID-19 testing strategies for summer workouts. 

The health and safety of athletes and staff is paramount for collegiate sports programs, but the business of college sports is the crown jewel of revenue for universities, while arts programs are considered simply the tiniest jewel for schools to profit off in terms of revenue and funding.

UNT reported a $39.9 million budget for the athletic department in 2019, with most expenses covered by $15.4 million from UNT and $12.6 million from student fees, according to an article from the Denton Record-Chronicle. 

In addition, the student fees contribution increased by $2 million from 2018 after UNT students approved an increase in the athletic fee by $6.25 per credit hour, according to a report from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

If UNT’s football season is cut, the university could be facing an estimated $5 million loss and this amount doesn’t even include other UNT sports programs. 

This loss won’t just affect the university and its additional sports programs. Student athletes will be losing their athletic scholarships and higher education opportunities as well as coaches and staff losing their jobs in the midst of a pandemic and impending economic recession. 

In comparison, the fine arts programs at UNT, including the College of Visual Arts and Design, College of Music, Media Arts and Dance and Theater programs, reported an estimated $31.2 million budget for 2019, according to UNT’s 2019 fiscal year budget

Although not a huge gap in funding between the two programs, football and other sports programs are the big money makers at universities. A 2018 report of college sports programs earned $14 billion through tickets, television contracts, apparel and merchandise sales, according to the report from the U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy.

UNT also allocates and supports these funds for the fine arts because of the university’s world-renown music and arts programs, which isn’t the case for other universities and schools in the U.S. 

If UNT’s football season were to be cut, the university might consider reallocating funds from other programs and entities to make up for the $5 million loss. Hypothetically, UNT’s fine arts programs could be next in having their budgets slashed in order to make up for the loss of sports, tuition and other revenue opportunities. 

A 2019 report from the National Assembly of States Arts Agencies found that after adjusting for inflation, arts funding has decreased by 43.4 percent since 2001. The Texas legislature cut statewide arts funding by 28 percent in 2018, slashing funding for arts education, nonprofit arts organizations and other statewide programs, according to a report from the Austin American-Statesman

There is little data regarding funding and participation in fine arts education programs in U.S. school systems, leaving a gap between funding opportunities and the uncertain futures of arts programs. 

There’s no telling what the future of collegiate sports and fine arts programs will be. With the increasing number of sports cuts, massive revenue losses and reallocation of funds have thrown student-athletes, staff and fans into a whirlwind of what if’s. 

Maybe fine arts programs won’t be directly affected by budget cuts and COVID-19, but they might be next in line for the chopping block. Fine arts programs already struggle enough with past budget cuts and the likelihood of fine arts programs recovering from the pandemic and impending recession are slim. 

Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I so desperately hope both sports and fine arts programs can recover from the financial beating they’re already getting. Both programs are increasingly important for students, whether it’s increasing spatial thinking skills, discipline, positive peer relationships or student success, the fine arts and sports are equally important, period. 

Only time will tell whether colleges lose another vital part of their entity and leave students and staff in the dust. 

Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon

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Sarah Berg

Sarah Berg

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