Exploring a solution to save city sports
Last week when I suggested the Chicago Public Schools look into corporate partnerships to support sports programs, it didn’t seem like such a revolutionary idea.
And it turns out Mike North was there first, with a proposal more detailed than mine. North is best known as a sports talk host, but unlike some of his colleagues, he has a pretty good working knowledge of preps as well as colleges and the pros. North, who’s currently heard on WIND and XM satellite radio, also is an assistant basketball coach at Notre Dame and has contacts with several North Side Public League schools.
The last time CPS was in budget crisis mode, then-CEO Ron Huberman floated the idea of dropping lower-level sports. North crunched some numbers and came up with a proposal called Save Our Sports (S.O.S.). The idea was to work with all kinds of businesses — from multinational heavyweights like McDonald’s down to the corner pizza place — to bring corporate sponsorship to Public League sports.
North envisioned having a board of directors to oversee the enterprise, with representatives from the City Council and private business. And he foresaw prominent individuals investing on their own.
There were actually three proposals:
* No. 1 would have covered sponsorship for an individual Public League high school at three levels. Gold sponsorship would go for $250,000 and get the sponsor’s name on the back of uniforms; silver ($50,000) would earn a patch on the front of uniforms; and bronze ($25,000) would mean a patch on the shoulder.
* No. 2 would have one business sponsor an entire school’s athletic program. North put that ballpark number at $300,000 per school.
* No. 3 would have one sponsor cover every sport at every school; at the time of the proposal, that would have cost roughly $15.9 million for what were then the 53 Public League members. Or alternately, a company could pay $500,000 to cover one sport for every CPS school.
The numbers may have shifted in the few years since North pitched his ideas, but they’re probably not so much different now.
So do the cost-benefit analysis; CPS officials say they’re looking at deficits from $600 million next school year to $1 billion and $1.3 billion the following years.
Eliminating all sports, not just the lower levels as Huberman envisioned, would barely dent those shortfalls. But they could have disastrous consequences for Chicago’s kids, who need safe havens now more than ever. And yet, if there’s a way to keep these programs going at no cost to the taxpayer, why not explore it? That way dollars could be freed up from sports to support other worthy programs.
North was able to get a meeting with CPS officials to pitch his ideas. While some expressed interest, they also balked at some parts of the proposal, including the idea for independent oversight and North’s compensation – he asked for 15 percent of the money he raised.
It’s hard to see what the problem was. The use of rain-makers to raise money isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea. And as North points out, community members already wield influence on local school councils.
It’s a creative solution to a serious problem: how to preserve a well-rounded educational experience for the city’s public school students in the face of unprecedented financial challenges for the city and the state.
“If they take sports, the city’s done,” North said.
That doesn’t have to happen, if CPS officials have the vision and courage to consider the solutions offered by North and others who have the kids’ backs.