Athletics on the clock

Athletics Department granted more time for careful review of sports programs to craft new budget-savings plan

UND Potato Bowl

UND Fighting Hawks football fans root for the home team at the annual Potato Bowl game at the Alerus Center. Photo by Shawna Schill.

UND President Mark Kennedy often has likened a university’s athletics program to the front porch of a home.

Like curb appeal does for real estate, athletics is a powerful and pride-instilling representation of the greater institution. It’s the outward-facing part of a university that brings alumni together and piques the interests of others who might want to become part of that family.

In short, it’s one of the greatest marketing and recruiting tools that an institution can have.

True, success on the playing field is an integral part of enhancing that appeal and making that porch the best on the block. That’s why Kennedy, in consultation with University Finance and Athletics leaders, is providing more time for UND Athletics to carefully study ways to trim its budget and still compete at championship levels in the sports UND offers.

Last month, Athletics was given a budget-savings target of $1.3 million and was asked, with other units on campus, to submit a budget reflecting that goal by Monday, March 6. Kennedy has extended that timeline for Athletics, with a new report period slated for early April.

The extra time gives Athletics the ability to sort out potential new revenue opportunities and ramifications associated with UND’s recently announced transition from the Big Sky Athletic Conference to the Summit League in 2018 in most sports, as well as UND Football’s intended move from the Big Sky to the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020.

Those moves were announced only a little more than a month ago. The changes put UND back into conferences with traditional regional rivals, such as North Dakota State, South Dakota State and the University of South Dakota.

Hyslop Sports Center

Budget crunchers at Hyslop Sports Center (above), the administrative headquarters for UND Athletics, have been given another month to carefully study ways to reshape Athletics’ budget by $1.3 million, through reductions and reinvestments, as part of the overall University budget restructuring process. UND Archives photo.

Changed landscape

More time allows Athletics to better study this new new landscape and to more carefully consider budgetary ramifications, sports sponsorship requirements and equity compliance.

“The recent conference realignments will undoubtedly result in added revenues and lower expenses in the future as we unite with closer regional rivals,” Kennedy has said. “Nevertheless, it is likely that we regrettably will need to consider again the number of sports we sponsor if we are to support competitive efforts of the remaining teams.”

Kennedy said that any future budgetary reductions assigned to Athletics would be keeping in step with the shared sacrifices that are currently being felt in units across campus.

“It’s reflective of a University that sings in harmony,” he explained.

Mark Kennedy

UND President Mark Kennedy

As part of the overall budget restructuring process, there have been discussions on draft plans that could get Athletics to its budget-savings target. UND officials stress that, if, in the end, it is decided to eliminate a sport or sports, UND would honor student athletics scholarships for returning students in any affected sport.

Furthermore, UND would assist affected student-athletes who might desire to transfer to another institution to continue their playing careers.

It’s the right thing to do, officials said, and it’s exactly the way the University and the Athletics Department handled matters last April, when the men’s sport of baseball was eliminated as a result of budget-trimming measures.

“It pains us greatly to even consider the need to go through this kind of process again, and it is certainly not our intent to prolong the uncertainty more than we absolutely have to,” Kennedy said. “But given the continued financial duress of the state, and, in turn, the University, we are forced to make tough decisions so that we might come out stronger in the end.”

Currently, UND offers 11 women’s sports and 9 men’s sports.

Men’s Golf originally was slated to be eliminated last year with Baseball. But at the time, the University allowed programs on the verge of being eliminated a chance to raise private funds to continue. Golf has, thus far, been able raise enough funds to sustain the program. Still, the fate of Men’s Golf, one of the least expensive of UND’s programs, remains uncertain.

Kennedy has made it clear, in discussions with Athletics, that there would be no similar opportunity granted for private fundraising, if, in the future, another program or programs must be cut.

Reinvestment opportunities

As part of the extended budgetary review, Athletics and Finance staff also have been asked to be mindful of the potential for new marketing and advertising opportunities as well as ways to reinvest future savings in sports programs and help raise them to championship levels.  They’ll also consider ways that some of those same savings might be used to support new fundraising efforts and facility improvements down the road.

In addition, Athletics will continue to explore other revenue sources and means to increase ticket prices and donor contributions.

Finally, Kennedy referenced the diligence shown by UND’s Intercollegiate Athletic Committee (IAC) during an October review of the University’s Athletics Programs. He noted that the panel, primarily comprising faculty members, affirmed its commitment athletic excellence at UND by authorizing the President to find ways to fund all sports UND offers at a championship caliber.

“The IAC set a solid foundation for the University to build upon as we work together to strengthen support for our Athletic Programs,” Kennedy said. “Its actions showed that athletics clearly has a strategic value as a front porch to the University – inviting people in to gain an affinity for all the great things we have.”