College Athletic Departments Continue To Trim Expenses

The 2013 holiday season brought grim news within two athletic departments in the Northeast region of the United States. Robert Morris University of the Northeast Conference (NEC) and Temple University of the American Athletic Conference (AAC), announced that they would each be cutting seven sports at the conclusion of the 2014 academic calendar.

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Scholarships for these student-athletes will be honored until graduation. Those wishing to participate in their respective sport at another institution will be assisted through the transfer process and will not have to sit out a year per NCAA regulations. The main reasons cited by both Robert Morris and Temple include financial problems, concerns over student-athlete welfare, inadequate facilities, and lack of compliance with Title IX.

The sports affected are noticeably non-revenue sports, that receive little fan-fare or exposure for example at Temple five of the seven sports cut were men’s sports (baseball, crew, gymnastics, indoor and outdoor track and field) , while the other two were softball and women’s crew. Temple has never been compliant with Title IX, but with their cutting of women’s teams, it’s obvious that these cuts were more about long-term budget constraints and trimming excess.

With travel costs increasing because of a switch to the American Athletic Conference, and conference trips for all sports to states such as Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. The cuts at Temple are expected to save between $3-3.5million per year between scholarship obligations, coaches’ salaries, travel, and operational expenses.

Image               At Robert Morris, the seven sports that will be cut include four men’s sports: indoor and outdoor track, tennis, and cross country, and three women’s sports: golf, tennis, and field hockey. The savings at Robert Morris are expected to be between $1-1.2million annually according to athletic director Craig Coleman. Robert Morris plans to spread the savings among the remaining sixteen varsity athletic programs to help additional scholarships, facility upgrades, and increased operational budgets.

“It’s a sign we want to be more competitive across the board in all sports. We want our high-profile sports that have achieved a lot of success to go to another level” said Coleman, probably referencing the Robert Morris opening round NIT victory over Kentucky last year.

“This is happening at many schools of various size,” Coleman said. “Maryland went through a similar point not too many years ago. I think one of the issues that we all have regardless of what level of athletics we’re at, is escalating costs.”

Coleman is correct that Maryland recently went through a similar transition, but the list doesn’t even start there. In 2006, former Rutgers athletic director Robert E. Mulcahy announced that six sports would be phased out on July 1, 2007. Five of the six programs affected at Rutgers were men’s teams, in order to comply with Title IX. The athletic department cuts were expected to save the athletic department $2 million, and were part of a university-wide cost-cutting resulting from an $80.4 million dollar budget shortfall for the university.

Image               The University of Maryland announced that they were going to cut eight sports on July 1, 2013. They ended up disbanding seven teams, with the men’s outdoor track and field staying afloat through a private fundraising effort. The seven teams affected at Maryland included four men’s teams: tennis, indoor track and field and cross country, swimming and diving. The three women’s teams were swimming and diving, water polo, and acrobatics and tumbling.

“Restoring some teams down the road is definitely a possibility” according to university president Wallace Loh. The cuts were not able to truly be reevaluated because of the withholding of funds by the Atlantic Coastal Conference, which Maryland will be leaving for the Big Ten on July 1, 2014.  The Big Ten generates higher revenues per school, which should give the school some flexibility to revisit these cuts, although Loh has already earmarked some of the funds to expand mental health counseling and to support student financial aid for all students.

Image              “We will be one of the very few universities in the country where you use athletic money to support the academic side of the house” said Loh. One of the schools that current uses “athletic money” to support academics is the University of Alabama, their football team being valued at $110 million surely helps that cause. Their subsidization of academic programs should come with an asterisk because although they did send almost $4.4 million dollars to the university in 2012 ($1 million for faculty support and $3.4 million in licensing, the Athletic Department had received nearly $5.5 million in institutional funding.

There appears to be no disparity between public and private schools and their tendency to cut teams, as Maryland and Rutgers represent public schools and Robert Morris and Temple are both private institutions. It is easier to analyze the data for public schools because their financials are public information. In 2012, 23 of 228 athletic departments at public universities generated enough revenues to cover their own expenses according to USA Today. Louisiana State University, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Purdue, and Texas were the only public schools to report no subsidy money in 2012, which means that 16 athletic departments that were able to cover their own expenses without subsidies from institutional or government sources, still received university subsidies. In 2012, subsidies for all of Division 1 athletics rose by nearly $200 million compared to the same figure in 2012.

As athletic departments look to be more fiscally responsible in the future, their expenses continue to rise and revenues begin to become relatively stagnant with most major revenue streams recognized. Universities at all levels continue to evaluate the sustainability of individual programs. Some schools such as Towson University announced the disbanding of both their baseball and soccer program. Students, parents, alums, and donors rose up to save the baseball program, which was being allowed to finish out their season and ended up getting public funding to support the program through the next two season because of the overwhelming support, but they were unable to save the soccer program which had been disbanded immediately .Towson Athletics is an example of a school that is highly subsidized, receiving nearly 20% of their 2012 revenues from university or state subsidies.

               ImageIs there an end in sight for this tactic of cutting athletic programs in order to save money, comply with Title IX, or “out of concerns for the welfare of the student-athlete”. As the dust continues to settle from realignment, and universities begin to see where they lie geographically with their conference opponents, or the repercussion of long term media rights deals, administrations across the country will face these dilemmas in order to combat rising expenses. The question will come down to if athletic departments want to remain competitive in the on-going arms race in regard to facility upgrades, on the recruiting trails, and with their academic support services offerings. Most Athletic Department mission statements will read similar to the NCAA mission:

“Our mission is to be an integral part of higher education and to focus on the development of our student-athletes.”

              Administrators in athletic departments across the country will be faced with the question, which athletes carry out their individual mission best. Is the athletic department able to provide adequate support for each athlete and program? How much are administrators willing to invest in their student-athletes, and what are they expecting in return. College athletics are being treated like a business, and with the revenues of athletic departments (basketball and football specifically), it is hard to argue against the rational. Now it’s the responsibility of administrators and athletic departments to find a balance and operate under a sustainable model going forward. With athletic programs getting shuttered, the only real victims are the few coaches and the hundreds of student-athlete that must choose between their education and participating in collegiate athletics.

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About Barney Carleton

Barney Carleton is a former graduate assistant for the St. John's Athletic Communications Department. Barney is a double alum of St. John's University, completing his Bachelor of Science in Sport Management in December 2012 and his Master of Business Administration in Executive Management in May 2015. Barney is currently a Senior Specialist, Broadcast Operations at the National Basketball Association and oversees operations for the D-League and WNBA. Barney has freelanced in sports production with Rush Media and Ross Mobile Productions, serving as a replay operator (NewTek 3Play & Mira Abekas), A2, Camera Operator, Associate Director, Technical Director (NewTek Tricaster 855 EXTREME), Producer and Producer/Director. He often voices his opinions on issues in Sport on his personal twitter: @BarneySTJ
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