The recent verbal tug of war over whether Southeast Missouri State University should exchange its Indian mascot for a Redhawk demonstrates how much students, alumni and fans care about the university's sports teams. How much the university should spend on its sports teams is a different issue, but it's one that could decide how the Redhawks are embraced.
Stories in last weekend's Southeast Missourian laid out the challenge athletic director Don Kaverman faces in trying to help Southeast's sports teams compete with other schools in the conference. Southeast ranks seventh among the nine schools in the Ohio Valley Conference in spending for men's sports, primarily because Southeast's funding for men's basketball and football is at the bottom of the league.
The school's football coach, Tim Billings, schedules two games each year with Division I-A schools because it means a good payday for Southeast. It also means two almost certain losses.
By their actions, other schools acknowledge that money is required to compete for the best personnel and players. Last month, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale gave its athletic director a $30,000 annual pay increase and bumped up its football coach's salary by more than $45,000. SIU, which is a Division I-A school, spends more than $2 million more a year on its sports programs than Division I-AA Southeast does.
Southeast cannot expect to compete with SIU. But supporters do want a team that can stay up with the rest of the OVC.
Unlike some schools that lavish money on the major sports of football and men's basketball, Southeast has tried to maintain as much equity as possible in funding its sports programs, Kaverman says.
Kaverman and booster club president Jim Limbaugh do not advocate taking money from low-profile sports and giving it to football and basketball. They hope to find new funding sources.
An increase in student activity fees is a natural source. The $288,979 that went to Southeast athletics from student activity fees in 2002-03 compared to the OVC average of $632,432. But Southeast president Ken Dobbins says how much overall funding the athletic department gets from the university is the only number that matters, and that figure of nearly $3.7 million ranked Southeast third in the OVC.
Just as they did with Indians and Redhawks, Southeast's fans will make up their own minds about whether the university's men's sports teams are being short-changed.