An inoperable men’s room at the San Diego State University library. Photo by Peter C. Herman

San Diego’s City Council has voted unanimously to accept SDSU’s $86.2 million offer to buy the Mission Valley site and build a new football stadium. But while the way seems to be cleared for this project (assuming that lawsuits, construction delays, and coming up with an acceptable environmental review don’t get in the way), there are still many reasons why this is a terrible idea.

First, nobody seems to know—or is willing to say—where SDSU is getting the money. The administration always pleads poverty when it comes to paying for initiatives and programs.

For example, a request to fund the annual English Graduate Student Conference was turned down because “funds available allowed for only a portion of the applications to be funded.” And last July, the administration significantly reduced the funding for a program addressing faculty salary inequities. When asked why, a high-level administrator blamed “our budget constraints” and said the problem would be addressed “within the context of our budget limitations.”

To which I have to ask: if SDSU can pony up $68 million in cash and then add another $14.2 million, how can there be “budget limitations” at the university? If we have that amount of money in the bank, then why was it not first used for student scholarships, hiring more tenure-track faculty, and addressing the many infrastructure needs on campus?

The Malcolm A. Love Library, for example, is not only pathetically under-funded (our acquisitions budget: $2 million; Florida State University’s budget: $8 million), but it is literally falling apart:

  • Many of the men’s bathrooms remain closed
  • If one more bathroom is closed, the entire building gets shut down
  • The stucco exterior of the of the 1971-vintage building is crumbling

How this is not a clear and present danger, and why both the bathrooms and the walls have not been repaired, I do not know.

Then there’s football. SDSU is about to invest millions and millions of dollars into a sport that by all accounts is dying. The audience for the Super Bowl is declining (2019 had the smallest audience in 11 years), and so is the number of people attending games.

SDSU’s football program is not immune to this decline. Season ticket sales for the 2019 season are down 15% from last year, and turnstile attendance also spirals downward. The average attendance in 2018 was 25% lower than 2017 and 16% lower than 2016. Most students are indifferent to the fate of the Aztecs.

Crumbling stucco on the San Diego State University Library

The reasons are not hard to find.  Football players are not exactly role models. The NFL has so many players having run-ins with the law that USA-Today now features a database of football arrests. Some of them are trivial, such as driving without seat belts. Others, in particular the arrests for domestic violence and other assaults, are not.

Football also causes permanent brain damage. Study after study has shown the terrible effect football has on professional players and college players, who were suffering the effects of repeated concussions even before the season started. No wonder more and more responsible parents are steering their kids away from football and into safer sports, such as soccer.

So why is SDSU rushing headlong to invest millions and millions of dollars into a sport that endangers its players, most of whom are minorities, and is increasingly unpopular? How is building a football stadium a sound investment?

And let’s be clear: this project is all about football. Classrooms and other amenities are a secondary, if not tertiary, concern. The rush is to get the stadium completed in time for the 2022 NCAA season. The other stuff won’t come online until 2030 at the earliest.

The usual excuse is that football is essential for fundraising and increasing SDSU’s national profile. But this won’t stand any scrutiny. The funds raised for university athletics stay with athletics; they do not support the library or any other part of the academic mission.

As for popularity, more than 94,000 people applied to SDSU last year. Given the very low attendance at football games, I doubt all those students want to come study at SDSU because of football, as opposed to the weather and SDSU’s reputation as an excellent, affordable university.

Wouldn’t the $86.2 million be better spent elsewhere? Shouldn’t that money be spent elsewhere?

I’m still waiting for answers to these questions.

Peter C. Herman is a professor of English Literature at San Diego State University. He is an expert on Shakespeare and Milton, and is author of the new book Unspeakable: Literature and Terrorism from the Gunpowder Plot to 9/11.

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