JACKSON, Miss. (AP)
University of Southern Mississippi President Horace Fleming is being unfairly criticized for not pumping enough money into the school's athletic department, state College Board members say.
Questions concerning Fleming's commitment to athletics are circulating inside USM alumni groups and even across the Internet as the state College Board prepares Thursday to decide whether to renew Fleming's contract.
The 57-year-old former Georgia educator has led USM since July 1996, when he succeeded retired President Aubrey Lucas.
Roy Klumb, a College Board member from Gulfport, said he has heard a ``lot of grumbling'' about how money is being spent on athletic programs. However, while some USM graduates believe not enough money is going toward athletics, the College Board has been concerned that too much money is spent on sports, Klumb said.
``I find it interesting that the problem that some alumni may be having is not the same problem the board has been having,'' Klumb said. ``There have been times that the board wasn't sure if USM...had a grasp that they had a deficit staring them in the face, and that's what concerns the board.''
USM's total operating budget for athletics was $10.5 million in 1999-2000 the lowest among the nine football programs in Conference USA. Southern Mississippi was third in the state in total operating budget for sports in 1999-2000, according to The Chronicle of Higher Learning. The University of Mississippi was first with $17 million and Mississippi State had $15 million.
Some fans wonder why the budget is so low and why Fleming has not improved it. ``First of all, USM is spending the amount of money that state law allows them to spend on athletics,'' Klumb said. ``There is only a certain amount of money that by law a university can put into an athletic program.''
On eaglepost.net and eagletalk.net two Web sites dedicated to Southern Miss sports Golden Eagles fans are posting messages both in support of Fleming and in favor of a change. Student groups held a news conference Monday to offer their support of Fleming and the school's faculty senate has given the embattled president a vote of confidence.
Steve Strickland of Jackson, a USM alumnus who is leading the charge against Fleming, has said ``the financial resources of USM, both academic and athletic, are not being placed in areas that will generate our greatest return on investment.''
College Board President William Crawford said budget cuts can make life awfully difficult for college presidents. ``In these times, morale is not as high as you would like it to be. People are concerned about their future,'' said Crawford, noting some USM faculty members' complaints about Fleming's handling of budget cuts that have hit all Mississippi universities. ``The pressure on presidents to lead universities is tremendous in the good times and almost horrific in the bad times,'' Crawford said.
In athletics, Crawford said, ``football is the main moneymaker, and how goes the football revenue often determines how goes the rest of the athletic budget.''
Southern Miss drew an average of 28,509 a game last year in football more than four Conference USA schools but in the other moneymaking sport, basketball, USM drew less fans on average than Division II Morehouse. Southern Mississippi drew 3,875 fans in 2001, far below Conference USA's 8,993 average per game.