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Big money, budget Band-Aid
Checks will help cut into MSU athletic department budget deficit.
Even as the school’s football program struggles to achieve success on the field and in the pocketbook, Missouri State’s interim president and athletic director are adamant the program will remain.
But in the university’s effort to soften the cost of doing business, coach Terry Allen and his team could feel the brunt of it by playing not one, but two major opponents this season.
MSU will receive a combined $835,000 for playing games at Arkansas and Oregon – among the nation’s top-ranked teams – next month.
“Those games are crucial to our bottom line,” athletic director Kyle Moats said, noting a $1.4 million deficit the football program incurred in the 2010-11 budget year.
The Bears also will play two major opponents – Louisville and Kansas State – in 2012 for a combined $875,000.
“Then we’ll take a year off and re- evaluate,” Moats said of the extra “money” game. Traditionally, teams at MSU’s level of the Football Championship Subdivision play one such game a year.
Even though fewer dollars from university funds will be needed this year and next, thanks to the extra “money” games, some on campus and in the community wonder if it’s time to reassess the value of a program with five winning records over the last 17 seasons. MSU is picked to finish last in the Missouri Valley Conference this season.
“I think there are strong feelings on both sides,” said Terrel Gallaway, chair of the Faculty Senate.
“For a lot of the faculty, the main issue is, given tight budgets, everything needs to be looked at,” Gallaway added. “There cannot be any sacred cows.”
Interim president Clif Smart has heard the anti-football rumblings and said he wanted to put to rest any talk that the sport was in danger of being dropped.
“There is absolutely no consideration of eliminating or downgrading football,” Smart said. “It will not happen while I am president, period.”
Smart said football has benefits that extend beyond the playing field.
“It helps us recruit some students and it helps build student spirit,” Smart said. “It’s critical to a band program with more than 300 kids enrolled.
“(Football) helps increase the diversity of our student body. It helps increase the diversity of our staff as four of the 11 football coaches are African-American.”
Of MSU’s 86-player football roster, 46 are minorities (51 percent) according to assistant athletic director for communications Rick Kindhart.
As for subsidizing football from general university funds, new Board of Governors chair Gordon Elliott said he sees the value.
“Almost all programs (athletically or academically) at a university lose money,” Elliott said. “That’s why we have state funding for almost 50 percent of our total budget.
“A subsidy for athletics is not different than for any program.”
Athletics has an $11.6 million budget for 2011-12, up $400,000 from the year before, with $5.1 million due to be t ransferred from the general operating fund, a $100,000 increase from 2010-11.
The football budget for 2011 is $2.525 million, or $150,000 more than last year due to travel costs.
Only 22 football-playing Division I schools showed a profit in athletics last year, according to an NCAA study released in June. All were at the major, or Football Bowl Subdivision level.
There’s no getting around the financial challenges, especially in a tough economy, Moats admitted, and that’s why the team is playing the extra-money games this year and next.
Adding to the challenge: MSU had to spend $500,000 last year to replace the light towers at Plaster Sports Complex after one fell over.
“It’s critical for the athletic department that the football team can play these types of games and I appreciate coach Allen for his willingness to take on that extra game,” Moats said.
Allen called the schedule a “daunting task,” and pointed out that Arkansas and Oregon are not just ordinary Football Bowl Series teams. Arkansas is ranked 15th in the Associated Press preseason poll and Oregon is ranked No. 3.
“They happen to be two of the eight teams selected to play in the BCS bowl games last year,” Allen said.
“But let’s be honest,” Allen added. “We have financial issues in the state of Missouri. We’re playing these games … because our athletic department needs the money.”
Sale of season tickets, the biggest direct source of revenue, is not encouraging. Through Thursday, MSU had sold 802 tickets priced at $40, $80 and $100 apiece.
That’s down from 997 last year and 1,426 in 2007.
“It’s one of our chores to sell more,” Moats said.
Things are brighter in terms of sponsorship revenue. Moats said the athletic department (it is not sold or separated by sport) made a $296,000 profit in sponsorships and advertising last year, up from $221,000 in 2009-10.
Moats said early indications are that sponsorship and advertising revenue, much of which is generated through Nelligan Sports Marketing, will increase again in 2011-12.
However, not all sponsors are happy.
David Hazelrigg, a season ticket holder since 1974 and a long-time financial supporter of MSU athletics, cringes at the thought of the Bears playing four road games to open the season.
The possibility that MSU could be 0-4 before its Oct. 1 home-opener against Northern Iowa is a real one for a team that was 0-6 on the road last year.
Hazelrigg worries a poor start will be more damaging to Allen’s efforts to rebuild the program –and the bottom line.
“Will there be any interest at all?” Hazelrigg said of the Oct. 1 game. “To me, it’s unfair to the student body, to Springfield and to the surrounding area.
“And it’s all over money.”
Missouri State’s average football attendance last season was 9,028 – more than 500 fans per game less than in 2009. MSU has four home games this year.
2010 MSU football season tickets sold
2011 (through Thursday) –802
– Source: MSU director of athletics Kyle Moats
Home Attendance Average
A look at Missouri State’s average attendance for football games in Plaster Sports Complex the last five years:
2010 –9,028 (5 games)
2009 –9,570 (6 games)
2008 –8,958 (5 games)
2007 –10,473 (6 games)
2006 –10,045 (6 games)
– Source: MSU football media guide
“There is absolutely no consideration of eliminating or downgrading football. It will not happen while I am president, period.”
– Clif Smart, Missouri State interim president
“For a lot of the faculty, the main issue is, given tight budgets, everything needs to be looked at. There cannot be any sacred cows.”
– Terrel Gallaway, chair of the Faculty Senate
By Lyndal Scranton, News-Leader