The selection of San Jose State's new president and the worst year of budget cuts for the university are proceeding on two paths that may cross amid a fight over the future of football.
A campus tradition established in 1893, Spartan football does not attract the crowds it once did, and costly efforts to revive the program are struggling. Some faculty members are calling for an end to playing in Division 1-A, saying the high costs cannot be justified when core academic services are disappearing.
That debate is about to pick up speed, just in time for a new president.
For the second time in six months, finalists soon will visit Silicon Valley's workhorse public university to see if a love match can be made. California State University trustees rejected the first three in November, saying none was the correct fit.
The selection committee and its advisory group met last week in Los Angeles to interview semifinalists. Names of candidates who made the final cut and want to advance to the public phase should be announced in early April. Campus visits are scheduled the week of April 11.
If the chemistry works, San Jose State University's 25th president will arrive a year after the last one departed and just as the university comes to reckoning with at least $13.7 million in budget cuts. How to maintain academic programs on a shrinking budget certainly will be among the new president's chief concerns.
As the school's new resource planning board turns the campus inside out, looking for cash to keep classrooms open, some faculty members are questioning whether football is worth the cost. Today, San Jose State is one of five among 23 CSU campuses that fields a football team, and one of three in Division 1-A.
``It's not whether Division 1-A football is good or bad,'' said associate history Professor Jonathan Roth. ``It's a question of priorities. Is football more important than teaching our students? I know a lot of people who are football fans who say we simply can't afford it anymore.''
If Roth and other like-minded faculty members prevail, the question of dropping out of Division 1-A would be put to a vote of the faculty before the end of the school year. While such a referendum would not be binding, it potentially could place the faculty at odds with the new president.
That could be avoided, Roth said, if the interim president, a respected former president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, would pull the plug.
But those who support Spartan football say it creates ties between the university, students, alumni and the community and brings San Jose State positive attention.
``It has an attachment to the institution that you can't always quantify and reasonably explain,'' interim President Joseph Crowley said. ``Personally I believe the university has an opportunity to restore athletics to a better place than where it is over the next five years.''
Crowley, who plans to make most of the difficult budget decisions before a new president arrives, said he supports a compromise football proposal introduced in the Academic Senate last week.
The resolution, scheduled for an April 19 vote, calls for reducing the athletic department's reliance on the general fund over the next five years. In addition to football, general fund money supports such activities as instruction, tutoring, computer centers, academic advising and counseling.
For now, though, the general fund is expected to supply 58 percent of the intercollegiate athletic department's $11.7 million budget this year. That $6.8 million is too much, Crowley said. The Senate proposal would scale it back.
It recommends that the general fund contribute no more than 35 percent to 45 percent of the athletic budget. But it does not call for a cap on the amount of the general fund money that can go to athletics.
Faced with the similar budget pressures, other CSU campuses are looking at ways to reduce general fund spending for athletics to free up money for academics.
Earlier this month, San Francisco State University students approved two new fees and increased an old one for instruction, the career center and counseling. But they turned down a fee increase for athletics that was supposed to fill behind the campus president's decision to withdraw all general fund support in 2004-05, which would cut the athletic budget in half.
San Diego State University students will vote next month on a proposed fee increase that would provide money for athletics so that general fund money could be reallocated to cover academic costs.
San Jose State also is talking with student leaders about the possibility of campus-based fees, Crowley said. He said priorities are preserving instruction and avoiding layoffs, if possible.
A report on San Jose State's athletic program presented to the Academic Senate last week concludes that the costs of participating in Division 1-A are rising while outside sources of revenue are flat or declining. That has resulted in greater reliance on the university's general fund.
The football program takes up too much of the university's money and energy and needs closer scrutiny, said Wiggsy Sivertsen, director of counseling.
``If we're going to have intercollegiate athletics, we ought to have an intercollegiate athletic program that fits our pocketbook,'' Sivertsen said. ``We can't have a Neiman Marcus program on a Kmart budget.''
Contact Becky Bartindale at bbartindale@mercurynews. com or (408) 920-5459.