After 2017 pivot, UND Athletics set to soar
Fighting Hawks more than ever ready to build on athletic and academic successes
Using the analogy that Athletics is the “front porch” of a university — the eye magnet that enhances curb appeal – it’s safe to say UND is well on its way to becoming the envy of the block.
That’s thanks, in large part, to the success of Fighting Hawks student-athletes in the classroom and on the playing field.
Last year, UND won its first Big Sky Conference President’s Cup for academic and athletic excellence and had the league’s highest academic progress rate for the fifth-straight year.
UND also captured its eighth national championship in hockey in early 2016, and then over the next several months, won four Big Sky championships in the conference’s high-draw sports of football, men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. Volleyball, for its part, is coming off its second-straight trip to the NCAA National Tournament as the Big Sky’s one and only auto-bid.
The cherry on top came last March when UND men’s basketball made a first-ever appearance in the NCAA National Tournament and took the highly-seeded Arizona Wildcats down to the wire in front of a national TV audience of 1.4 million.
Clearly, UND’s front porch already is much more than a fixer-upper. Still, there’s always room for improvement.
With new UND Director of Athletics Bill Chaves coming on board in March and a reset of the department’s financial situation, there’s renewed energy in the Hawk’s Nest and an opportunity to soar higher and farther.
But it wasn’t easy to get to this point.
UND’s overall Athletics budget showed a $1.4 million deficit in its Fiscal Year 2016 (July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016) financial report to the NCAA.
Every year, NCAA member institutions, such as UND, are required to report their revenue and expenses online in financial reporting categories defined by the NCAA. UND Athletics’ most recent NCAA report, for FY17, was submitted last week, a complete version of which can be found here: UND FY 2017 NCAA Report
After UND President Mark Kennedy started in the summer of 2016, a decision was made to fund Athletics’ FY16 deficit with institutional funds to bring it to break-even. This was done with clear guidance that it was a one-time fix and, moving forward, Athletics would be expected to make budget.
Then, last year, UND Athletics had to reduce its overall budget by $1.3 million to adjust for $700,000 in one-time NCAA distributions that would not be replicated and as part of University-wide cuts brought on by falling oil and agricultural prices and decreases in state funding. The resulting Academic Year 2018 budget of $21.9 million reflects funding from ticket sales, contributions, student fees, and $6 million in institutional support.
This belt-tightening resulted in the elimination of women’s hockey and men’s and women’s swimming and diving, whose total budgets in the Athletics Department were $2.3 million.
That didn’t mean, however, that UND Athletics all of a sudden was awash with freed-up cash.
Last year’s restructuring anticipated reinvesting about $500,000 of those savings in new scholarships in eight remaining programs (women’s golf, women’s and men’s tennis, women’s and men’s track and cross country, and softball), both maintaining UND’s strong record for gender-equity compliance and enhancing the competitiveness of those programs.
Another $200,000 was used to offset increases in scholarship costs, and $100,000 covered increases in health insurance for Athletics Department employees. Also, about $175,000 was needed for contracted salary increases to retain coaches and assistant coaches with proven track records.
These financial moves leave UND with a stronger, more competitive athletics program and will be reflected in UND Athletics’ FY18 NCAA report, due at this time next year.
The right expertise
In yet another effort to get Athletics’ financial house in order, UND made Becky Lucke point person for budgeting and financial reporting to the NCAA. An experienced accountant and financial analyst, Lucke is providing a level of expertise that had not been available in the past.
When Athletics needed an outside auditor to review its most recent NCAA report, the University followed Lucke’s suggestion to go with one of the best, James Moore Certified Public Accountants and Consultants out of Florida – an industry leader in NCAA reporting with a strong portfolio of Power 5 clients.
“They brought with them a really great working relationship and the expertise we needed to be more consistent with how we report as a Division I institution,” said Lucke, assistant athletics director, finance.
With Lucke’s help, Athletics is able to ensure revenues and expenses are assigned to specific sports programs instead of pooled in more general categories, making the finances as accurate and transparent as possible.
The more accurate reporting reveals men’s hockey as not only UND’s primary revenue generator, but a net contributor to other athletic programs.
Kennedy said UND’s Administration remains fully committed to Athletics. He values Athletics as a source of pride for the University and a marketing tool with a high ceiling for returns on investment.
“Athletics truly is the front porch of a University,” Kennedy said. “The regional and national exposure that it provides draws people to our campus; it gets them here to see all of the wonderful things we have inside. It’s also a key piece in helping fans become students and, eventually, alumni of this great University.”
Kennedy added, UND plans to maintain its annual institutional support for Athletics moving forward – hoping to engender a spirit of entrepreneurialism within the Athletics Department under Chaves to enhance budget moving forward.
“Thanks to hard work by many, the Athletics Department is not behind the 8-ball anymore, though, it’s not rolling in money either,” Kennedy said. “There are opportunities to grow. And as Athletics finds new and innovative ways to raise revenue, they will be able to keep more of it.
“Future growth is largely in the hands of the Athletics Department.”
Athletics has already implemented a number of new strategies to maximize revenues, such as increasing ticket prices as well as securing higher game-guarantee payments. More could be on the way once Chaves gets on board in March.
He’s expected to launch an internal strategic planning process to more closely align Athletics with the overall strategic initiatives of the University, detailed in the One UND plan.
Chaves, who comes to UND after serving 10 years as Director of Athletics at Eastern Washington University, says he likes what he’s seen, so far, of the University’s vision for the future.
“The One UND Strategic Plan is tremendous,” Chaves told UND Today. “I think the Athletics Department can follow suit with a plan of its own that can lift the department – and I look forward to building that.”