In a sense, Cal State Northridge athletics officials have seen a wish come true. Among faculty, staff and student leaders on campus, the school's football team finally has become a hot topic.
Unfortunately, it was not in the manner they had hoped.
On Monday, a blue-ribbon advisory commission, formed to study the school's athletics program, will tour the campus and conduct interviews this week for a report due in January. Based on the study, the school will chart a course for its sports teams.
As budget shortfalls wreak havoc throughout the Cal State university system, Northridge athletics has come under increased scrutiny. Football, the largest and most expensive of Northridge's 18 sports, is at the forefront of a controversy that cuts directly to the bottom line.
The school's $3.7-million athletics budget for 1992-93 derives from three sources: an estimated $1 million in revenue from home games, road-game guarantees, sponsorships and donations; $970,000 in income from the Northridge Foundation--a campus subsidiary--and student fees; and $1.75 million in state funds for the salaries and benefits for coaches, staff and administrators.
About $1 million of the state funds for coaches' salaries came from the $74.4-million in state-generated instructional funds Northridge received for this academic year.
The bottom-line cost for football this year was less than $190,000. Obviously, dropping football or otherwise scaling back the athletics program would do little to solve the university's massive budget problems.
But at a university where classes have been slashed and students have been turned away, any six-digit expenditure is subject to meticulous examination.
"The real question is," said John Clendenning, a Northridge English professor and one of 17 Northridge Foundation trustees, "what are we getting for that money?"
FOOTBALL'S PRICE TAG
On the field, Northridge's investment in football has resulted in a solid Division II team. The Matadors, 5-5 in 1992, have had only one losing season in Coach Bob Burt's seven seasons and shared a Western Football Conference championship in 1990.
By mandate of the NCAA, the football team must join Northridge's other athletics programs in Division I by the fall of next year. Northridge is expected to play in a cost-containment Division I-AA conference beginning next season. The new conference plans to adopt a scholarship ceiling lower than the 40 of Division II.
Several faculty members believe that money invested in football might be better spent on other, less-expensive sports. Said Louise Lewis, president of the Northridge faculty: "Given the population in the San Fernando Valley and the student population and the cost of some of these sports . . . if we're looking for a whiz-bang impact, I'd say let's go with soccer."
Bob Hiegert, Northridge's athletic director, said if extra funds were made available by eliminating football they probably would be spent on starting a women's soccer team, increasing the pay of some coaches to lessen their teaching load, and boosting scholarship levels.
"But there is an assumption there that there would be additional money," Hiegert added. "I don't think that's accurate."
Hiegert fears that if Northridge is forced to drop sports teams, athletics revenues will drop accordingly. For example, the athletics program this year will receive $495,000 from student fees. With no football team, the student committee charged with delegating the funds might decide sports programs need less money.
Paul Bubb, director of athletic fund raising, said, "a stigma is attached anytime you drop a sport."
"People are leery," he added. "There's a whole healing process involved."
Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Long Beach, potential members of the cost-containment Division I-AA conference, have shelved, perhaps temporarily, their Division I-A football teams.
Fullerton, which announced Monday that it was suspending football operations until 1994, expects to save $290,000 in coaches salaries by taking a year off. However, because the athletics department faces a $350,000 shortfall, the loss of football did not balance the budget.
Long Beach saved $289,000 in coaches salaries by eliminating football before last season but still faced a significant budget shortfall. To balance the budget, the school cut an additional $173,000 from other athletics programs.
Northridge already has slashed football expenses. In 1990 the university spent $365,245 on scholarships, salaries, equipment, meals and travel related to football. Despite a small annual increase in salaries, only $298,572 was earmarked for football this year. By comparison, Fullerton spent $1.2 million on football this fall.
Bubb said dropping football would eliminate Northridge's most popular sport in terms of attracting corporate sponsors. For example, the cost of broadcasting Matador football games on radio currently is underwritten by two corporations.