Measures taken to get the athletic department budget under control at UNO have borne fruit.
UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts said that, although there is still much work to be done, the department made a slight profit (when state support and student fees are included) in 2011-12 and is projected to do so again for 2012-13.
“We made a tough business decision, and we were able to finish with a balanced budget,” Alberts said.
UNO moved to Division I in 2011-12, dropping football and wrestling in the process while also adding men's soccer. UNO's $8.5 million athletic budget for 2011-12 included a surplus of $911, according to documents supplied by UNO.
Eliminating football and wrestling saved the department about $1.7 million, while the new soccer team lost $158,427. Hockey was the only program showing a surplus, at $228,346.
“At some point you've kind of maximized the revenue you can find,” Alberts said. “We've got to find a way to leverage profitability in men's hockey. As expenses rise, it's critical that we continue to find increasing sources of revenue.”
UNO hopes to move the hockey team's games from the CenturyLink Center to a proposed new arena on UNO land just south of campus.
“If it comes online, it'll be a net benefit to UNO athletics,” Alberts said. “But it's hard to understand what it might be yet — we've got too much work to do.”
UNO's move to Division I also gave the men's basketball program the ability to schedule lucrative road games with high-major programs, injecting six-figure income into the bottom line.
“We're going to lose less money in men's basketball than ever before because we've got revenue now,” Alberts said.
Once it achieves full Division I status, UNO will also be able to share a slice of the six-figure revenue that all Division I programs receive from the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
For now, though, Alberts is trying to keep UNO moving forward under current constraints.
State support, which UNO projected would have to rise to just under $8 million annually by 2016 to sustain the program at the Division II level, has been capped at $3 million. That number increases to a shade under $3.1 million in 2012-13 after the state approved raises for some department employees.
Student fees remain reasonable, particularly when compared with many institutions, Alberts said.
“We can't build a Division I athletic department on the backs of our students (by significantly increasing student fees),” Alberts said. “(And) the vision is not to just hope that state support is dramatically increased.”
Alberts said the department takes pride in the fact that only 49 percent of its budget is subsidized.
Among public Division I programs without football teams, only UNO and Wichita State were subsidized less than 50 percent, according to research by USA Today. In the Summit League, only North Dakota State (at 47.9 percent) receives a smaller subsidy than does UNO, and five of the eight public institutions subsidized their athletic programs between 76 and 89 percent.
|School||Budget||Total Subsidy||% Subsidy|
|North Dakota State||$15,351,245||$7,311,860||47.9|
|South Dakota State||$13,106,871||$7,761,765||59.4|
A handful of institutions, including Nebraska, run athletic departments that need no state support. That's not realistic at UNO, Alberts said.
“But what is realistic,” he said, “is that we create a business strategy that our department, relative to our peers, is also an outlier.”
Alberts said the department is trying to reduce the dependency on individual donations and booster clubs to make the budget work while simultaneously establishing value in the department. Despite a decline in overall attendance, ticket revenue is up because the number of complimentary tickets offered has been reduced.
“We're not where we need to be, but we feel like we have a strategy and a vision in place now that's really going to help UNO as an institution move forward and create the kind of overall campus experience that students are looking for,” Alberts said. “We can feel good about the fact that we're participating (in the institution's success).
“But the reality is, we (in the athletic department) run a business. And it's a tough business. It's a business that has a lot of pressure points that are dependent sometimes upon your own ability.”
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