GUEST OP photo

Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at East Carolina University, where home football games take place.

East Carolina University is a large North Carolina university that treats Saturdays in the fall like religious holidays. To southerners, football is everything, and ECU is no exception. The issue, though, with ECU committing so much energy, effort and funding to football, is its less than impressive overall record of 3-6 during the most recent 2020 season. Not only does the university’s millions of dollars spent on football negatively affect other athletic programs, it also has a negative effect on the university’s academics and students. 

ECU’s reputation depends on lots of factors, and its athletic record combined with high acceptance rate makes ECU out to be a laughingstock to those who aren’t Pirates. ECU has a reputation of being a party school, rather than a school focused on academics, so its lack of triumphant athletics despite the incredible athletic facilities doesn’t bode well for ECU’s image or prestige, despite the football program making it appear as though ECU cares quite a bit about its image.

Baseball, after all, is “America’s favorite pastime,” and the East Carolina baseball team finished 12th in the country for NCAA Division 1 baseball during the 2021 season. That’s an outstanding feat not many universities can claim, yet the baseball team and its facilities don’t get nearly the same level of funding that the football facilities do.

The most recent renovation to the football team’s Dowdy-Ficklen stadium was the expansive TowneBank Tower, a building with dozens of suites and offices connected to the stadium. The project cost nearly $80 million, whereas the baseball team’s Clark-LeClair stadium has only seen $4 million in renovations since its opening in 2005. Although the money for TowneBank Tower came from donors, could that money not go towards something that directly benefits students, like scholarships or grants?

After COVID-19 hit in 2020, university budgets across the country became tight, and ECU among many other universities suffered. The athletic programs took a hit, and in order to save money, ECU made the choice to cut both the men and women’s swim and dive teams, which had recently earned ECU a conference title. The teams were later reinstated, but only after they threatened Title IX litigation.

All this attention on the football program is because of the culture surrounding football. Expensive stadiums and impressive promotion of the sport brings donors, spectators, boosts student morale and brings attention to the whole university. More attention from athletics means the university becomes more competitive for students, which is a plus for large universities. It wouldn’t be expected for an NCAA Division 1 university of nearly 30,000 students to have a small, debilitated football stadium, but that shouldn’t be such an important focus for ECU since it has a variety of impressive athletics, and its main priority should be education.

Many other universities across the country of similar figures don’t treat football with the same focus that ECU does. James Madison University in Virginia, for example, is situated in a similar rural area, has around the same student population, and is also an NCAA Division 1 university. However, JMU sees more success from its general student body partly because it doesn’t funnel nearly as much money into its football program. ECU does it all for show and the hope of seeing financial gain.

On average, college athletics departments spend around three to six times as much per athlete than on the average student, according to a study on academic spending versus athletic spending, and the average NCAA Division 1 university with a football program lost $14.4 million dollars in 2016, according to a report from the NCAA. Not only does that set up regular students to be at a disadvantage, but the burden of underperforming sports teams fall back on the average student, driving the price of their degree up through higher student fees.

During the 2018-2019 fiscal year, ECU’s athletic expenses outweighed their athletic revenue by nearly $4 million, according to a report by NCAA Finances. Appalachian State University, another public North Carolina University made around $200,000 in profit. Avoiding these losses is possible by cutting programs, which is exactly what ECU did when it cut the swim and dive teams, but again, those weren’t the underperforming teams.

ECU isn’t the only university that faces this dilemma. NCAA Division 1 universities across the country put their student body at a disadvantage by prioritizing their athletics and student athletes over regular students. The issue doesn’t end with funding teams with less than winning records, even heavily funded successful sports cause universities to lose money. 

Getting rid of athletics entirely is not the solution, as that is a large part of what draws potential students to a certain university, and when students feel a sense of pride for their school, they’re more likely to stay and graduate, but that attraction to a university with huge athletics programs shouldn’t stunt their potential as a scholar. 

Leah Darby, ECU sophomore communication major

(3) comments


Apparently the author of this article knows nothing about the history of ECU football or athletics in general. The reference to James Madson is an example of their ignorance. No mention was made to the contract with the AAC and ESPN that brings a substantial amount of money to the school. The article is just amother example of a person that is jealous of the athletic department and the athletes.


ECU's all time record is 323-313-3, not exactly a football powerhouse. So bringing up the history of ECU doesn't do much for any deriders of the above opinion article. Also if they want to bring up history ECU opened as a teacher training school, so again history won't bode well for anyone trying to argue with that perspective. Recently ECU football has been in the dumps ever since head brass fired Ruffin McNeill and the school has continued to drool over its "powerhouse" program that has become a laughing stock. Also if you aren't a student athlete, and even if you are wouldn't you want more amenities on campus vs. suite renovations in the stadium that you'll never go to in your life?


As one who strongly believes in academics, I am trying to appreciate your article. However, it is very simplistic in its portrayal of large college athletics. Athletic funds greatly come from boosters. And In ECU’s case, ESPN and the AAC factor in as well. If ECU had out dated facilities, that would factor into recruits passing on ECU which in turn would factor into winning. You are a sophomore and didn’t do your research. ECU football was a phenomenal program less than decade ago which is how grown to it’s capacity and facilities.

Please allow me to address your poor support of ECU. It will take people like you to change “the antiquated image” of ECU as a party school when their medical school ranks among the top medical schools in the country, when their nursing program’s first time passing rate suppercedes or ranks at the top with Duke, UNC and others who are perceived as elite, and when ECU produces more educators in NC than ANY other college. By-the-way, you can’t just graduate to become a teacher, there is a national exam to pass.

Please do your due diligence before writing an article because someone just might read it like me.

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