Editorial: Bigger schools should take the hit on reduced athletic funding

One little-noticed provision of Gov. John Kitzhaber’s budget proposal would strip money from college sports across the state, redirecting it to other education programs.

That may well be a reasonable choice, given the intense competition for education dollars, but we’re troubled by the disproportionate effect it would have on the state’s smaller schools.

The plan, reported in The Oregonian, discontinues the use of lottery proceeds for intercollegiate athletics and scholarships. For the University of Oregon, the $951,816 loss would be only 1.1 percent of its $87.9 million athletic department budget. At Oregon State, the loss would be 1.6 percent.

Contrast that with Oregon Tech, where the $290,670 loss represents 14.5 percent of its $2 million budget. Eastern Oregon would lose 11.6 percent, Southern 11.2 percent, Western 9.3 percent and Portland State 5.6 percent.

Athletic department leaders from the five smaller schools said their programs would be severely affected. Portland State’s Torre Chisholm told The Oregonian that PSU uses the lottery funds “exclusively for scholarships, primarily for our women’s teams ... I don’t know how — or if — we can replace those dollars.” Oregon Tech’s Michael Schell said he was “stunned.” Ben Cannon, the governor’s education policy adviser, said athletics need to compete with other needs, including academics and research.

We agree with Cannon. Everything must be on the table and tough choices made about priorities. It may well be true that lottery funds can be better spent elsewhere.

Our argument is with treating the big two — Oregon and Oregon State — the same way we treat the smaller schools.

The bigger universities are far better equipped to take the hit. Their extensive programs can trim around the edges without serious damage, and they have big donor bases and new television revenue.

If lottery money must move away from college athletics, the loss should be borne in Eugene and Corvallis, sparing the smaller schools.

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