LET'S THINK outside the box score for a second. Forget about football. Forget about school spirit. Forget about all of the abstract notions that Temple president Neil Theobald asks you to think about when he attempts to explain why it makes sense for Temple to pursue the construction of a $100 million, on-campus football stadium. No doubt, it makes sense for the school's administrators. After all, it isn't their money.
The $8.3 million in annual university revenue that Temple was transferring to its athletic department to fund its sports programs as of 2014? That wasn't coming out of their pockets. But a chunk of it was coming out of ours: 8 percent of it, to be exact, which is the amount of Temple's revenue that came directly from the state and federal governments.
Eight percent of $8.3 million is $664,000, which might not be a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but that's kind of the point. I enjoy football. I enjoy tailgating. But I don't enjoy being taken advantage of. And the notion that this football stadium won't cost the general public any money is disingenuous as long as Temple continues to fund any portion of its athletic program using public money. Give us back our $664,000 - or whatever amount of our money they are spending on athletics in this year's budget - and then we'll talk.
No doubt, the public's contribution to Temple's revenues - and, by extension, to its athletic program - is a pittance in the grand scheme of things. So let's think about an even more disconcerting transfer of wealth from public to private hands. Students paid 26 percent of Temple's 2014 budget in the form of tuition and fees. Much of that share was funded by private debt, and when a nation is drowning in private debt, all of us feel the impact. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently found a correlation between student debt and home-ownership trends. A 2011 study by researchers at Berkeley and Princeton found that having a student debt reduces the likelihood that people will choose a low-paying, public-interest job. That might sound intuitive, but is it any less intuitive to suggest that an institution like Temple could improve society if it used its energy and resources to reduce that private debt instead of spending an additional $100 million to build society another football stadium?
While we're on the topic, let's think about that $100 million. It's supposed to be a no-brainer, right? The funding is already lined up, right? Let's forget about the $20 million in additional capital funds that is supposed to come from the state, even though we're all well aware of who pays the state the money they are supposed to appropriate. Let's forget about the bonds that Temple would sell in order to fund another chunk of the project, even though we're all well aware that those bonds are backed by tuition dollars, and that those bonds are generally highly rated because the raters know that this country's education-industrial complex has commandeered the collective psyche to the point that if they have to raise tuition to meet their obligations, the rest of us will happily keep on taking out our loans to meet their asking price.
These things never cost what they say they are going to cost. And even if this turns out to be the exception, the only thing $100 million will buy is an empty stadium. The unfortunate reality is that stadiums cost money to operate. Take a look around. The management group that runs UConn's Rentschler Field spends roughly a half-million a year just on maintenance, utilities and upkeep. Same goes for Florida Atlantic and North Texas, both of which opened stadiums in 2011. FAU spends another half-million on game-day operations.
Rentschler Field has run an annual operating deficit since it opened. That's in addition to the capital costs required for construction (UConn's equivalent of the $100 million).
In 2014-15, FAU spent $5.28 million on its stadium but made just $3.625 million in ticket/parking/sponsorships/concessions. It needed $1.89 million in support from the university and another $535,000 in student fees.
Houston's new stadium checked in with a final price tag of $125 million, with only $15.1 million coming from private donations. The Cougars averaged 28,300 in attendance per home game in their first season. They went 12-1 this year and that number jumped up to 34,000. All they need to do is go to a BCS Bowl every year.
Every single one of these universities started out by saying the same things that you are hearing from Temple. Next time somebody tries to convince you that Temple will be different, ask them to show their work. Using numbers, not abstractions.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy