Did athletic department strong-arm Auburn into keeping favorite major for student-athletes?

Did athletic department strong-arm Auburn into keeping favorite major for student-athletes?
Auburn running back Tre Mason runs in for a touchdown against Florida State during the BCS Championship Game at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4, 2014. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

In order to save the favorite college degree program of its student-athletes from elimination, the Auburn athletic department reportedly was prepared to do whatever it took, including funding the program itself.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, after a review by the political science department, the urging of the provost and several votes, it was decided in March 2013 that the public administration major would cease to exist at the university.


Only, it hasn't.

The athletic department reportedly met with school officials to plead its case, and in September, when asked about the major's status, the provost's office said the program would remain.

"The Provost and the Dean have agreed to keep the Public Administration program open," an email to curriculum Committee Chairwoman Patricia Duffy said.

Auburn confirmed that the athletic program, which had $113.7 million in revenue for the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to USA Today, had offered to subsidize the program, but that deal was turned down.

The athletic department had not "improperly influenced academic decision-making," an Auburn spokesperson said.

A January 2013 email from Auburn Senior Associate Athletic Director Gary likened such a move to "similar investments in academic programs during the last few years."

It's easy to see why the athletic department was so interested in public administration. During the 2013 fall semester, of the 111 students enrolled in the program, 51% were student-athletes, including quarterback Nick Marshall, running back Tre Mason, receiver Sammie Coates and three other defensive football players, according to the report.

On the 2014 team, 26 players were pursuing a major in public administration.

"If the public administration program is eliminated, the [graduation success rate] numbers for our student-athletes will likely decline," an athletic department memo from 2012 obtained by the WSJ said.

In 2013, Auburn won the Southeastern Conference championship and made it to the final Bowl Championship Series title game against Florida State at the Rose Bowl.

The Tigers lost on the field, but they had saved their public administration major.

Follow Matt Wilhalme on Twitter @mattwilhalme