In a telling sign of the athletic department’s new economics, Missouri’s softball team cleaned Memorial Stadium before the Sept. 13 home football game against Eastern Illinois to raise money for expenses.
A 19.8 percent increase in tuition has brought a shift in policy in the athletic department that emphasizes consolidating positions while maintaining financing for the department’s main revenue sources: basketball and football.
Athletic Director Mike Alden describes the new management philosophy as akin to models corporate America uses.
During the past two years, the athletic department has eliminated 23 positions, including 16 positions last summer that saved the athletic department close to $500,000.
During roughly the same time period, men’s basketball coach Quin Snyder’s salary increased from $535,000 to $815,000, and the total salaries and wages of MU’s football program increased from $1,682,304 to $1,916,508
“It’s critically important that you do everything you can to maximize (football’s and basketball’s) productivity so there is obviously a ripple effect,” Alden says.
“There’s a tremendous benefit to our baseball program if our football program goes to a bowl game. It’s a great benefit to our swimming program if the men’s basketball program participates in the NCAA championships and they get television exposure.”
Associate Athletic Director Tim Hickman says 50 percent of the athletic department’s revenue comes from the football program, but there is room for that number to grow.
“Schools with long successful (football) programs, that number is closer to 75 percent,” he says.
Through football and basketball money the athletic department’s operating budget has grown to about $30.4 million. The budget is larger than ever and nearly doubles the $17 million it was four years ago.
The athletic department receives $2.2 million from the university, but $1.5 of that goes toward the athletic department’s debt service. The remaining $700,000 goes to out-of-state waivers and ticket discounts.
Hickman says the operating budget is self-generated from ticket sales, Big 12 Conference revenue and donors.
Donors will play an increasing role in financing the athletic department in years to come.
“We have to rely more and more institutionally from corporate and private gifts to be able to help us get stronger,” Alden says.
Through donors, the athletic department has installed a $750,000 FieldTurf at Memorial Stadium, enlarged its weight room, training room and Sheldon Academic Resource Center in the Tom Taylor Building, financed the Audrey J. Walton Track-Soccer-Field Stadium and begun construction on its $75 million arena behind Hearnes Center.
Does this increasing reliance on donors influence decisions made within the athletic department?
“I would hope that you would never see the athletics program at Mizzou influenced by outside sources like that,” Alden says.
Hickman says the exposure that comes through winning defines the relationship between the athletic department and donors.
“(Donors) want to see the institution succeed, and they want to see athletics succeed, and so that’s where they open up their checkbooks,” he says.
“Everybody wants to be associated with a winner. Maybe everyone has a different idea of what that means, but everybody wants to be associated with a winner.”
Bill Brooks, an MU alum and athletic department booster, has donated close to $100,000 to the athletic department during the past 25 years.
Brooks, who donates to the football team, says winning is not his primary motivation for donating money.
“I’ve gotten a lot of joy out of the football program,” he says.
“I love the camaraderie of it. It’s like a 12-week social event.”
Still, Brooks makes allusions to the program becoming more competitive.
“I think this new coach (football’s Gary Pinkel) is dynamite,” he says.
“We have a chance at bringing the program to where programs want to be.”
Smaller programs are having a hard time maintaining where they are. The athletic department cut equipment and expenses in all programs by 20 percent.
Hickman says the 20 percent cuts were made in all athletic programs and will save the athletic department close to $1 million.
Smaller programs that lack donors to compensate for the cuts are making changes.
The softball team has changed how it travels and eats. Softball coach Ty Singleton says the team searches the Internet for travel deals, no longer uses charter buses on road trips and no longer eats in restaurants three meals a day, instead going grocery shopping for some of its meals.
“You spend more time preparing for those things, and you don’t get a chance to spend as much time on the softball stuff,” Singleton says.
Wrestling coach Brian Smith says he is accustomed to watching expenses because his team doesn’t generate revenue for the athletic department.
“You just can’t spend,” he says.
“You have to watch what you spend. You have to be careful about what you do. In our situation we always are.”
Smith and Singleton realize the value a donor could add to each of their programs.
“We have a lot of donors,” Smith says. “We’re still looking for the one who has the big money.”
To compensate, Smith says the wrestling team had its annual golf tournament Sept. 21, relies on boosters and will have a preseason meet with national champion Oklahoma State on Nov. 21 in St. Louis.
Smith hopes to raise $50,000 to $60,000 for this season among the three.
Singleton could use a donor to install a new drainage system at University Field. The system drains to the left across the infield. Even with a tarp down, the infield is soaked after a few hours of rain.
Singleton says the athletic department, despite the size of its operating budget, is unable to finance the project.
“(A new drainage system) is something that a donor would be a huge help,” he says. “If someone saw that as something they wanted to support it would be welcome.”
This combination of growth in the athletic department’s overall budget and cutbacks for smaller programs is a reflection of Alden’s new corporate-management philosophy.
Alden says that because of shrinking state support he would like to see the corporate management model the athletic department uses emulated throughout the university.
“If we are going to be a stronger university then we have to look at consolidation efforts, at programs, and the viability of programs at allocating resources,” he says.
“Maybe not across the board in an even-handed way with everybody, but trying to take a look at what areas do you have the greatest opportunity for growth, what areas do you think are critically important to maintain, but maybe what are some at this point that may not be important to have in the program.
“It has to be more corporately driven than how it’s been in the past.”