Regents to hear sports budget issue

by Justin Ware

An athletics departments report released Tuesday has University officials scratching their heads – and their pocketbooks – in an attempt to eliminate budget shortfalls facing intercollegiate sports.

University Vice President Tonya Moten Brown highlighted the University’s sliding economic position in Big Ten athletics with a report she will present before the Board of Regents on Friday morning.

The University received more institutional support than any Big Ten school in fiscal year 2000. Last year the athletics departments received more than $10 million in subsidies, and that number is expected to rise to $10.6 million in 2002.

“It doesn’t make much difference to me how the situation occurred because there are many factors to it,” said men’s athletics director Tom Moe.

Moe said the University should examine the entire program and not focus solely on either women’s or men’s teams.

The University is the only Big Ten institution with separate departments for men’s and women’s athletics. Some University officials have questioned if running two programs is fiscally responsible.

“We have to ask ourselves if there is a structure that is more efficient, less costly and just as effective,” Moe said.

Moten Brown said combining the two departments would not save much money.

She said the number of people needed to run both departments would not change substantially. Employees would only have different titles with slightly altered salary structures.

But Moten Brown said that still doesn’t eliminate the potential combination of the athletics departments.

“All options are on the table,” she said.

The report identifies low football revenues as one of the athletics departments’ largest hurdles.

Football is projected to fall $600,000 short of its 2001 revenue target.

“Our revenue is limited to ticket sales and partial concessions revenues,” Moe said.

The shortfall is disappointing to Moten Brown and Moe because athletics departments depend on football as a primary source of revenue.

Moe said the University does not receive revenue from parking, suites, advertising or club seating – sources all other Big Ten universities with stadiums enjoy.

He said Ohio State University increased its revenue flow by $11 million dollars last year with a $200 million renovation to its football stadium that included 82 new suites and 2,500 club seats.

Moten Brown said it is uncertain whether a new stadium would solve the athletics departments’ financial problems because funding is sparse.

“There’s no free lunch,” she said. “Who’s paying for the (stadium)?”

Sandra Gardebring, vice president for University Relations, said the University has no plans to pay for an on-campus stadium.

“We do not feel that we can afford the debt or operating cost of a new stadium,” Gardebring said.

Gardebring will present the University’s official position on funding the proposed stadium for the Gophers and Vikings at the state Legislature’s Tripartisan Stadium Task Force Committee meeting Thursday.

“We would be willing to provide the land and willing to bear the cost of construction for parking ramps should we receive revenues from the parking fees,” she said.

But Gardebring said academic funding takes priority over athletics funding in budget decisions.

Stadium and departmental issues aside, limited athletics scholarship funding also contributes to the mix.

The University’s athletics scholarship endowment of $11 million is the lowest in the Big Ten. Michigan leads with $40 million in endowment funds.

Moten Brown said the University’s fund-raising placement into athletics construction projects instead of the scholarship endowment is partly to blame for the low figures.

With the departments’ shortfall, University officials must decide whether to raise funds or cut expenses.

Moten Brown said she thinks it will be a combination of the two.

“If the institution cannot spend more Ö then you have to look at the expense side,” she said.

Justin Ware welcomes comments at [email protected]