There has been much talk in the past several years, particularly this season, about how much or little support Penn Athletics has received from the university.
It must be noted that the problem for Penn Athletics isn’t the inability to spend. According to data from the Office of Postsecondary Education, Penn’s annual expenses since 2004 – the start of Amy Gutmann’s presidency at Penn – average out to 30,644,364, the highest average in expenses in the Ivy League in that span:
Average Annual Athletics Expenses Since 2004
- Penn 30,644,364
- Yale 27,483,608
- Princeton 19,230,050
- Harvard 18,707,094
- Columbia 18,703,370
- Dartmouth 18,673,655
- Cornell 18,589,023
- Brown 15,175,837
Penn Athletics also ranks second highest among all Ivies since 2004 in annual operating expenses:
Annual Operating Athletics Expenses Since 2004
- Princeton 243,306
- Penn 213,518
- Harvard 205,083
- Columbia 196,110
- Brown 188,651
- Cornell 180,694
- Dartmouth 159,819
- Yale 156,991
Even a comparison of Ivy expenses on men’s basketball programs since 2004 makes Penn look charitable, as Penn ranks first in the Ivy League in total annual expenses on men’s basketball in that span:
Average Annual Men’s Basketball Expenses Since 2004
- Penn 1,085,005
- Harvard 912,857
- Columbia 895,928
- Princeton 895,102
- Cornell 781,351
- Yale 754,243
- Dartmouth 732,493
- Brown 729,028
Indeed, Penn Athletics isn’t currently in dire financial straits at all, also taking into account its comparatively high revenues. It’s not even necessarily heading in a more fiscally conservative direction with regard to its men’s basketball program. From 2004 to 2013, Penn’s men’s basketball–related annual expenses rose by 42 percent, the third-highest jump in the league behind only Harvard (62 percent) and Cornell (43 percent).
There have been strong suggestions that Penn coach Jerome Allen received a contract extension that would keep him at the helm of the program for multiple seasons beyond this one, and so many have questioned whether Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun would be willing to buy Allen out of his contract.
Any way you slice the data above, Penn is easily financially well-equipped to buy Allen out. There’s money in the margins at Weightman Hall. But where the money’s coming from makes all the difference.
In Nov. 2013, I reported for the Daily Pennsylvanian that the university was lessening its financial support of Penn Athletics:
“Penn Athletics’ total expenditures and revenues totaled out to $36,774,000 in 2012-13 according to its Annual Report. Forty percent of its sum on the revenues side came from subvention, or funding that the Division of Recreation and Athletics receives from the University. That means DRIA received $14,709,600 from the University in 2012-13.
But the allocated costs for 2012-13, which include contributions back to the University as well as facility maintenance and other operational expenses, total $13,974,120. So if you subtract the allocated costs from the subvention, Penn Athletics is only getting back $735,480 from the University. That number has fallen from nearly $1.6 million in 2009 to less than $750,000 in 2012, while the total revenue derived from gifts only increased roughly $25,000 from 2011 to 2012.
In other words, Penn Athletics isn’t looking to the University for financial support at all. It can’t afford to. Instead, it’s relying on gifts big and small from alumni donors.”
Under Gutmann’s leadership, the distance between College Hall and Weightman Hall has seemed all too distant. Unlike past Penn presidents, Gutmann has been an infrequent presence at Penn sporting events and doesn’t naturally gravitate toward sports outside of admittedly fantastic initiatives such as the Young Quakers Community Athletics Program and similar endeavors.
But Gutmann’s not the president you want to have if you’re looking for a splash head coaching hire should Calhoun decide to move on from Allen after this season ends. As reported at the time (and as the Ancient Quaker noted just yesterday), this is what Gutmann told me two years ago when I brought up Penn’s last-place finish among Ivies in the 2012-13 standings for the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, a measure of collegiate institutions’ overall athletic success for a given year:
“I am a very competitive person and I want to play by the rules and win by the rules. But the real deep and important purpose of our athletics is not to win more than everybody else. It’s the experience of teamwork, of strong competition, of discipline. It’s the education and creating of character as well. If all we wanted to do was have the most winning teams, we wouldn’t be part of the Ivy League.”
Quaker fans eager to move on from Allen seem to be obsessed with the idea of making a splash with the program’s next hire, probably because Al Bagnoli just got lured away from Penn Athletics after 23 years by a new ivy athletic director to helm the historically repulsive dumpster fire that is Columbia’s football program.
If Calhoun should decide to go in a different direction at the head coaching position, she’ll be well aware that there are other ways to revitalize a program besides throwing big money at a big name. (Like Fran Dunphy circa 1989, for example.)
But one Office of Postsecondary Education statistic stands out as troubling across the board for Penn Athletics. Penn has the second-lowest average of men’s head coaches’ salaries among Ivies during Gutmann’s presidency, ahead of only Brown (easily the lowest-spending school since 2004):
Average Annual Men’s Coaches’ Salaries Since 2004
- Cornell 111,199
- Yale 105,107
- Princeton 92,568
- Columbia 91,935
- Harvard 87,128
- Dartmouth 85,288
- Penn 83,851
- Brown 75,192
Penn has yet to comparatively shell out to its coaches over the years, so it’s unlikely that it will start doing so with the next high-profile head coaching position the school must fill.
That distance between College Hall and Weightman Hall has broader and much more important implications beyond men’s coaches’ contracts. The bottom line here is that although the money is definitely there to get creative within reason, Calhoun’s call must be approved by Gutmann. I don’t ultimately foresee any conflict between those leaders whatsoever on this issue, if and when it does come up.
But the latter’s apparent isolation remains troubling. The reactions of Calhoun and Gutmann will be crucial in measuring Penn’s commitment to a return to on-the-court excellence for Penn basketball in the future.