Fixing Our Universities: The Birmingham-Southern Experience

One of the nation’s foremost liberal arts colleges is Birmingham-Southern College, affiliated with the Methodist Church. It’s a small school located in west Birmingham, with very high academic standards.

A few years ago, it decided to give up NCAA Division I athletics.

Here are excerpts from a story in the May 27, 2006 Birmingham News —

BSC opts for Division III

NCAA Division I athletics will fade away at Birmingham-Southern College while football will make a comeback.

The college’s board of trustees voted Friday to leave Division I for nonscholarship Division III. Chairman James T. Stephens said the school will add a Division III football team and build a $1.5 million football facility on campus.

Although the school will honor athletic scholarships for three more years, BSC will free all students currently on athletic scholarship to talk to any other Division I school about transferring with no penalty.

A four-year transition to Division III will begin June 1, 2007. No timetable was given for the addition of football, last played at BSC in 1939. …

A matter of money:

Stephens said an overall financial pinch at BSC caused the move.

“The opportunity to still have very good athletics, but reduce the cost of to college was the fundamental driver of the decision,” Stephens said. “It’s a question of ways and means and aspirations.

“We are going to have athletics at Birmingham-Southern. You do not have a college without good athletics. This is not about not having athletics.

“Division III was determined to be a good alternative and we believe we can operate in Division III for a lesser sum of money, once we get through a transition.”

Stephens said he expects BSC to spend $2 million to $3 million less than its current $6.5 million athletics budget. Earlier this week, Wayne Echols, BSC’s vice president for administration and a former chief financial officer, said the athletics department has run a deficit of $5 million to $5.7 million in each of the past four years.

BSC will save as much as $3 million a year by giving up athletic scholarships but continuing an expanded program of intercollegiate athletics.

You see, very few schools make money on athletics. A very few make money on football and basketball. And even those lose money on the other sports. I’ve seen the figures for the University of Alabama, which is as big-time as it gets. It makes a TON of money on football. It’s makes some money on men’s basketball. It loses money in every other sport, even women’s gymnastics and softball, in which it’s a national powerhouse and among the nation’s leader in fan attendance.

Now, I’m a huge college football and basketball fan. I have been all my life. It’s just the way things are around here. But I also try to be clear-headed about what’s most important.

I don’t know how much money our universities lose each year on athletics, but it’s a big number. And I imagine that a few board members and administrators imagine that athletics build alumni loyalty to their schools, which in theory helps generate contributions.

But I really don’t think that’s true. People enjoy collegiate sports, but I think Lipscomb and Harding and Abilene alumni give to their schools because of the schools’ mission for Jesus and their support for the Churches of Christ — not because of their football and basketball. And I doubt that many send their son or daughter to a Christian college because of the quality of the intercollegiate sports program.

On the other hand, I know of countless students who would have loved to attend one of our universities to study for the ministry but just couldn’t afford to do so.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Fixing Our Universities, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to Fixing Our Universities: The Birmingham-Southern Experience

  1. Nick Gill says:

    Amen. I'm one of those. I'm still paying for the degree I couldn't afford to complete.

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    And so I am I. ACU have charged me too much for too little. If you don't have the money don't borrow it becuase it is impossible to pay back with a liberal arts degreee for teaching or social work or ministry.