Food, travel, coaches play large role in athletics spending

Lora Pabst

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EDITOR’S NOTE:This is the first story in a three-part series dealing with finances and University athletics. The second part, focusing on revenue from athletics, will run in Wednesday’s paper.

Millions of dollars come into the University’s athletics department every year. But how much of this goes to the teams?

Student-athletes are an asset to the athletics department, and about 35 percent of the department’s budget goes directly to support the team, including players, coaches and staff members, according to the athletics department fiscal 2006 budget.

Salaries and benefits, general operating costs, equipment, travel, recruiting, meals and other associated costs for the 21 varsity teams account for more than $17 million of the athletics department’s $50 million budget. The remainder goes toward administrative costs, facilities management and various other expenses.

Coaches and staff

From women’s golf with the smallest budget of $212,392 to the football team with the largest budget at $5.5 million, a majority of team budgets are spent on the salaries of the coaches and staff.

“(Coaches and staff) are the most significant part of any team, they and student-athletes,” said Liz Eull, chief financial officer for the athletics department. “Everything else supports what they need to do.”

Women’s basketball coach Pam Borton, men’s basketball coach Dan Monson, football coach Glen Mason and men’s hockey coach Don Lucia all have contracts that make up a significant part of their team budget, Eull said. Mason’s contract alone is for more than $1 million.

Regina Sullivan, senior associate athletics director, said the coach and staff salaries are based on the going rate across the country.

“We try to keep coaches in the marketplace in terms of what other schools pay,” she said.

But coaches and staff receive more than just salaries from the University. Their fringe benefits are the third-largest expense for the teams.

Eull said fringe benefits are essentially “the portion of health care that the University pays for.” This includes retirement, life and disability insurance, health insurance and worker’s compensation.

Travel costs

The second largest expense for University teams is the cost of travel. As part of the Big Ten conference, most Minnesota teams travel as far as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Teams in other conferences, like the hockey team, travel as far as Alaska.

Travel makes up 18 percent of the total team budgets. The football team charters planes to transport its players and staff of more than 100 people. The men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as the volleyball team, also sometimes charter flights for midweek games.

Eull said the cost of chartering a flight is considerably more than paying for tickets on a commercial flight, but is necessary for larger teams.

Recruiting

Recruiting is an important part of any University athletics department. It is the fourth largest expense for teams at the University.

The NCAA regulates recruiting.

Eull said a majority of recruiting money is spent on travel for coaches to meet recruits. Since recruits come from all over the country, coaches spend a lot of time and money traveling to recruits’ homes.

“When kids come here on an official visit, that is the only time we can pay for anything,” Eull said.

Each visiting prospect pairs with a current University student-athlete who serves as host. The host usually is given money to entertain the prospect, but only for specific events.

Living expenses

The fifth-largest team expense is keeping student-athletes fed and sheltered while on campus. More than $900,000 is spent on team meals, local travel and housing student-athletes over academic breaks when they have to stay on campus to practice.

Football receives most of this money. Of the $968,448 spent in this area, $514,342 goes to the football team.

Eull said this is because the football team eats together five days a week during their season. The meals usually are catered for more than 100 athletes and staff members.

The men’s basketball team comes in second for money spent on meals and local travel at $102,540. That is still a $411,802 difference between the football and men’s basketball teams.

Sullivan said team meals are an opportunity to make sure student-athletes are eating good food.

“Food is ordered by the department to make sure there is a good balance,” she said. “And to make sure they’re getting enough fruits and vegetables and meat.”

But this is not a major expense for all teams. While it is the football team’s third largest expense, the men’s tennis team doesn’t expend any money for local meals and travel.

“They choose not to budget any money for that,” Eull said.

Rowing coach Wendy Davis said her team doesn’t have enough in its budget to include team meals.

“The budgets are divided up between the sports that are revenue-producing and the sports that are not, and we’re not,” she said. The rowing team’s budget is the 11th largest budget in athletics, at $444,696.

Davis said instead of having money for team meals she would rather have residence halls that better understand the nutritional needs of athletes.

Equipment

Team equipment is the sixth largest team expense. Almost $900,000 is spent on equipment and uniforms for student-athletes. Eull said this number does not include uniforms for coaches and staff members.

“Team equipment is exclusively workout gear, competitive gear and protective gear,” she said.

General operations

The general operating costs of each team cover a variety of areas, from office supplies to magazine subscriptions. The seventh largest team expense pays for the daily business operations of the teams.

Eull said general operations include coaches’ administrative travel to conferences, mailing and long-distance communications, sport-specific software, business cards, stationery, student-manager salaries and coach clothing.

Team budgets also must include the cost of referees for games. More than $600,000 is spent on providing officiating.

Eull said most of this money ends up coming from NCAA distributions.

Scholarships

Scholarships are not part of team budgets, but they play a role in the money student-athletes receive. More than $6 million in scholarships are awarded to student-athletes every year.

Eull said the reason scholarships aren’t included in team budgets is because, while the money benefits student-athletes, it ends up going to the schools and colleges at the University.

Football spends the most on scholarships, $1.95 million. The next closest sport is rowing, with $404,324 in scholarships.

The football, basketball, volleyball, women’s tennis and women’s gymnastics teams are allowed to give full scholarships. Other teams can give partial scholarships.

Davis said it is hard to decide how to distribute scholarships.

All teams have a limit on scholarship expenses. The rowing team has about 10 student-athletes on full scholarships, with another 20 on partial scholarships, though Davis said the team could award 20 full scholarships rather than give any partial ones.

The NCAA designates how many scholarships are awarded per sport, Eull said.

Mike Halloran, associate athletics director for development, said money for scholarships is the number one priority for fundraising.

“Most of our annual fund money is directed to scholarships,” he said.