ANALYSIS: CMU athletics has become big business under Heeke — and students are paying for it

By John Irwin

Note: This is the first in a series of posts analyzing Central Michigan University’s $462 million operating budget. Today: the athletics department.


Athletics director Dave Heeke has succeeded particularly well in one category since arriving at CMU from Oregon in 2006: Bringing in money.

Since the 2006-07 academic year, Heeke’s first full year on the job, the CMU athletic budget has risen 49.8 percent, from $18.1 million to $25.5 million this year.

That’s an impressive figure, especially considering CMU’s colleges saw their collective budgets rise by just 25.8 percent over that same time period. In fact, if the athletic department was considered a college, only the College of Science and Technology and the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences would have larger annual budgets.

Astoundingly, the athletics department’s budget averages out to roughly $63,000 for each varsity student-athlete. To put that into perspective, the college with the budget size closest to athletics’ — Business and Administration at $23.9 million — averages less than a tenth of that at $5,980 per student.

Students on the hook

Dave Heeke
Dave Heeke

Simply put, athletics has become big business at CMU under Heeke.

And who has to pick up the tab? Students, of course.

The CMU athletics department, as is the case with the vast majority of Division I colleges nationwide, runs deeply in the red. In this year’s budget, the department is estimated to bring in just $7.1 million in revenue, meaning the university is subsidizing athletics to the tune of $18.5 million to cover its operations.

As previously reported by CMU Insider, that means the university’s athletics subsidy alone is larger than the budgets of the College of Medicine and the College of Communication and Fine Arts.

When including Global Campus users and part-timers, the average CMU student spends $684 annually to subsidize the athletic department. That number is significantly higher for full-time students and for those who live on campus, meaning average Mount Pleasant students can expect to pay thousands of dollars for sports over the course of their collegiate careers.

Yes, that means college sports plays a significant part of the national student loan debt crisis. CMU, whose students graduate with more average debt than all but two public Michigan universities, is no exception to that rule.

Money buys mediocrity

Well, if CMU students are going to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on sports while in college, they should at least be able to watch a quality product, right?

After all, the supposed value of investing millions of dollars in collegiate athletics comes from invigorating the student body and raising the university’s profile thanks to winning football and basketball teams.

Surely, the rise in athletics spending has corresponded with a rise in winning seasons?

Not so much.

CMU invests more in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball — so-called “revenue sports” — than in any other sports. As former Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon can attest to, winning in these sports, and especially football, is typically all that matters when it comes to being judged a success or failure.

It turns out those three teams have largely been mediocre during Heeke’s nine seasons, as the chart below shows.


The Big Three, so to speak, have had an average annual winning percentage of just .493 during Heeke’s tenure, as of Jan. 29. While the women’s basketball team has progressed and won a Mid-American Conference title, the men’s basketball team has largely struggled until this year so far.

Football, the backbone of the athletics department’s spending, revenue and image, has floundered in recent years under former head coach Dan Enos. After a string of success and three MAC titles under head coaches Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, CMU went 26-36 under Enos over the last five years, never amassing more than seven wins in a single season.

Check back with CMU Insider next week for more budget analysis.

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