ECU to transfer money from physicians to athletics
Football has an outsized importance at East Carolina University in a state where basketball generally reigns. During good times, it helps attract more student applicants and alumni donations. When football is suffering, though, the money squeeze gets tight. Last week ECU said that it plans to invest $10 million now sitting in its ECU Physicians business into the athletics’ program over the next several years. “Funds will be transferred as expenses are paid,” a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
ECU said it “routinely moves funds in this matter between institutional accounts in managing operations and expenses.” Officials noted that the athletics department and the ECU medical practice —which is being sold to Greenville-based Vidant Health for $460 million — do not rely on state funding, instead relying on ticket and television revenues and medical fees.
UNC System spokesman Josh Ellis and State Treasurer Dale Folwell said they were unaware of the practice. Folwell has criticized both university-affiliated foundations and the Vidant-ECU Physicians transaction.
I checked with four other people familiar with UNC System finances. Each expressed surprise about such a transfer, even if state funding wasn’t involved. Most schools would cut the athletic budget before tapping medical-related funds, they said.
In November, ECU said its athletic department would have negative cash flow of $5.2 million in 2019-20 unless student fees were increased. The matter is pending. Meanwhile, Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is undergoing a $60 million renovation, football game ticket sales have sagged and Coach Scottie Montgomery was fired last week.
That’s the situation Southern Mississippi University Athletics Director Jon Gilbert and James Madison University coach Mike Houston are walking into, should they take the ECU jobs as expected. And it’s the situation Chancellor Cecil Staton will be leaving in January, pending agreement on buyout terms, according to the Carolina Journal website. Staton, who told the website he hasn’t resigned, has held his job since July 2016.
ECU and its Brody School of Medicine are often called the most important institutions in North Carolina east of Interstate 95. Everyone should be pulling for the Pirates’ leadership to make the right decisions.