Athletics department planning for financial hardships

Spending in college athletics is rising rapidly, but itâÄôs not immune to the financial crisis. The University of MinnesotaâÄôs athletics department is keeping a close eye on the current financial crisis and vows to work with the rest of the University through budget woes, but something has to give. Athletics director Joel Maturi said discussion surrounding the economy has been constant in his department. âÄúWe talk about it all of the time,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúWe continually look at travel, staffing and other financial decisions to do all we can to balance the budget as well as prepare for the future.âÄù The University will be challenged due to the state’s projected deficit, Maturi said, and athletics will work with University President Bob Bruininks and others to meet the challenges ahead. As universities across the country tread through a dangerous economic climate, college athletics must change its ways, Maturi said. âÄúI think everyone in college athletics will evaluate how they spend the dollars available,âÄù he said. In most cases, he said, revenues wonâÄôt increase but expenses will. âÄúTravel costs have increased and we will pay it.âÄù Maturi said. âÄúWe do not get anything more for the increased expense. To balance the budget, some things have to change.âÄù Maturi was hired in 2002 when the University merged its menâÄôs and womenâÄôs athletics departments due to budget issues. At the time, athletics had a projected deficit expected to reach $21 million over five years. As a last resort, the University had proposed cutting menâÄôs and womenâÄôs golf and menâÄôs gymnastics, but never went through with it. According to the 2007-2008 budget, the âÄúself-sustainingâÄù athletics department brought in about $65 million and spent about $62 million. While the state will be looking to cut funding in certain areas, including the University, the athletics department will likely be left alone. State representative Phyllis Kahn said there is very little money that comes from the state directly into the UniversityâÄôs athletics program and it is unlikely that any of that funding will be cut. Kahn estimated that between $3,000 and $5,000 are given to the athletics department for Title IX resources used to fund womenâÄôs sports and ensure equality in athletics. âÄúItâÄôs highly unlikely that this will be touched,âÄù Kahn said. One possible area that the state could look at is the new stadium, Kahn said. The state pays $10.5 million annually in bonds to pay off debt for the construction of TCF Bank Stadium , but Kahn said this would also be unlikely because it helps the stateâÄôs credit record. If the athletics department faced a budget deficit similar to the one in 2002 and needed funding from the University, the state would not likely help out, Kahn said. âÄúRight now, our attitude is to look at other needs like basic education, job creation and economic growth,âÄù Kahn said. According to the November Forecast released Thursday from the Minnesota Management and Budget Office, Minnesota is facing a projected $426 million deficit. âÄúOne of the problems is that itâÄôs not just a spending problem, itâÄôs a revenue problem,âÄù Kahn said. In light of the current economic crisis, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics announced a year-long examination in late October to discuss the economics of college athletics. Amy Perko, executive director of the commission , said this trend is not sustainable without having a negative impact on academic resources. However, there arenâÄôt yet any clear indicators that people arenâÄôt showing up to college sports, Perko said. âÄúReports have shown that professional sports teams are projecting decreased revenue from ticket sales,âÄù Perko said. âÄúBut whether college sports will experience a similar downturn in revenue is not yet evident.âÄù The Knight Commission has also cited extensive buyouts of coaching contracts as part of the spending problem. The Gophers athletics department had to borrow money from the University to buy out contracts of former coaches Dan Monson and Glen Mason. Monson resigned and Mason was fired, both in 2006. The buyouts totaled about $5 million and put the athletics department in the red for the first time in MaturiâÄôs tenure at the University.