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Dickinson State University athletics tries to make most of limited budget

Editor's note: This story is the second of two parts breaking down the financial situation of the Dickinson State athletic department. It delves into how the athletic department uses the money it has for student-athlete aid, including how much ea...

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Amount of Dickinson State University's total countable student-athlete aid reflected in dollars per sport in 2014-15. (Graphic by Kalsey Stults)

Editor's note: This story is the second of two parts breaking down the financial situation of the Dickinson State athletic department. It delves into how the athletic department uses the money it has for student-athlete aid, including how much each sport uses, as well the fiscal importance in recruiting athletes and what DSU’s vision is moving forward. Part one , published Jan. 17, included DSU’s methods of income and the setbacks it has dealt with. 

With a comparably low total countable aid for student-athletes, Dickinson State University has to spend a $610,000 student-athlete aid budget wisely with hopes of athletic success. And with a possible looming drop off in coming years, these decisions could become even more pivotal.
But how is that money divvied up? Who decides which group of student-athletes get the most help?
And perhaps the most important question: Is there enough money at DSU to go around?
Competing coaches
DSU athletic director Tim Daniel, who is in charge of athletic department spending decisions, said nearly every coach at DSU is looking for more money for their programs.
According to equity in athletics data analysis by the U.S. Department of Education’s office of postsecondary education, DSU spent about $737,000 in athletic-related student aid between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015, which is fourth among North Star Athletic Association programs.
In order to compete, Daniel said, DSU must offer recruits comparable scholarships.
“The first thing that each coach comes in and talks to me about is, ‘What’s my scholarship limitation? How do I get more scholarship dollars?’” Daniel said. “If you’ve got great athletes and great players - it’s an oversimplification - but it makes it easier.”
In their 2014-15 employee information reports, DSU coaches were adamant about wanting more scholarship dollars and other help.
Head women’s basketball coach Mark Graupe said in his report that more often than not, his team goes up against schools with more dollars to offer, and “since DSU does not offer academic aid (unlike every other institution), something must be done with availability of waivers. … Our booster club does all it can to help us financially but we need help from the college: either get academic awards or go back to giving us more in waivers!!!!!!!!!!”
Head football coach Pete Stanton emphasized DSU’s need for better funding for staff members, including assistant coaches and graduate assistants in all sports, “rather than using money from our income accounts to fund them when possible. We are behind all of our competitors in most sports in this regard.”
Head men’s basketball coach Justin Wetzel - who previously served as assistant Blue Hawk Booster Club coordinator - asked DSU to “continue to grow our scholarship packages similar to our competitors to aid in recruiting deserving student athletes both with academic and athletic talents to represent DSU in a positive manner.”
Kristen Fleury, DSU’s head softball coach and assistant athletic director, said, “For us to continue to be successful we will have to continue to recruit the area’s (sic) we have in the past. As I know we will get athletes to DSU with what we have I don’t know we will be able to be a dominate team in the North Star. The Booster Club is doing as much as they can as a small group of volunteers. It would be nice if we had more resources from the University to recruit student athletes.” However, she later added that her supervisor’s “hands are tied” regarding her concerns.
Coach concerns go back to 2011, when, in an employee feedback report, former assistant football coach Ryan Gatch asked for the “ability to offer scholarships or waivers comparable to the NAIA scholarship limit.” Gatch also listed the “scholarship plan budget for operations and recruiting” as a topic to discuss further with a supervisor.
Daniel said when he was a men’s basketball and golf coach in the 2000s when DSU was competing in the Dakota Athletic Conference, he would make the same type of complaints. So he understands now that he’s on the other side of the desk.
“At the end of the year, every coach will come to me and when I ask, ‘What do you need? What do you need in your program?’” Daniel said, “‘Well, we need to have more scholarship dollars, better facilities, more support things.’ Those are consistent things every year and are things we battle as a university.”
Difference of sports
Some coaches, however, have more to complain about than others.
Football received $143,168 in total countable aid at DSU in the 2014-15 academic year, the most of any sport. Wrestling was second with about $98,000; men’s track and field was third with close to $66,000; men’s basketball was fourth with almost $63,000; and softball was fifth with around $62,000.
The difference between men’s and women’s sports stands out, too. The eight men’s sports, including football, spent $430,219 (70.5 percent) in 2014-15, while the seven women’s sports spent $179,852 (29.5 percent). Even without football, DSU men’s sports accounted for $287,051 in total countable aid.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, that practice is common in college sports, as a combined $4.25 million (67 percent) was given by NSAA programs to athletic-related student aid for men’s sports and $2.12 million (33 percent) was given to women’s sports.
Jace Schillinger, the DSU football team’s offensive coordinator and coordinator of the Blue Hawk Booster Club, said football most likely receives less money per athlete because of the number of participants.
“We have to make a designation of where we put our priorities,” Daniel said. “There’s different tiers of sports, and every school does this. Where are you putting your emphasis at? There’s going to be a difference in the amount of money that you spend.”
There are also guidelines by the NAIA, Daniel said, that say football can receive the equivalent of 24 full rides at DSU, whereas golf has five and men’s basketball has six.
In basketball, NAIA Division I - where the Frontier Conference, DSU’s former conference competes - the scholarship limit is 11.
But those are just the limits.
DSU offers the equivalent of 10 full rides for football - 14 short of the limit.
Compare that to Carroll College in Helena, Mont. - a private school that has won six NAIA football national championships since 2000 and often competes with DSU for recruits - which has around that full 24 scholarships, Daniel said.

Scholarships vital for recruitment
Finances, of course, play an integral part in student-athlete recruitment. In fact, Schillinger said when a high school kid is considering different schools, it may become somewhat of a bidding war.
“As (former head football) coach (Hank) Biesiot used to say, we would love to get them to come with a cap and a T-shirt to come play,” Schillinger said with a laugh. “Those days have obviously changed a little bit.”
A strong selling point for DSU is the bottom line for student-athletes who have to end up paying tuition. Though DSU may give, for example, a $500 yearly athletic scholarship whereas another school offers up to $5,000 or $10,000, because DSU’s yearly fees are cheap - for in-state applicants, it stands at about $6,500 a year, according to DSU’s website - the amount the student-athlete pays after all is said and done is comparable.
Schillinger said it’s critical that DSU makes strong scholarship offers to potential student-athletes.
“We’ve really had to buckle down the last couple years just trying to up our scholarship limit as much as we can and raise money,” he said.
Daniel said DSU coaches typically recruit against the University of Mary in Bismarck, Minot State, Black Hills State in Spearfish, S.D., and Chadron (Neb.) State - all NCAA Division II schools with stronger financial backing for scholarship money.
DSU also competes for student-athletes against Carroll, Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont., Montana State-Northern in Havre and Montana Western in Dillon. Daniel said those schools, all in the NAIA’s Frontier Conference, are better funded than DSU.
“Recruiting is the lifeblood of your success in college athletics,” Daniel said. “You’ve got to have the ability to recruit, and recruit good, solid kids that are not only good athletes, but good people. That has a major factor in it. … It’s not about how great of coach they are, it’s about the people you have in the program. You’ve got to have the ability to get solid people in the program to have success.”
Often, different student-athletes will have different determining factors that will sway their decisions, Daniel said, whether that’s academic or athletic needs, whether they get along with coaches and other players, etc.
“It’s not about the Xs and the Os. It’s about the Jimmys and the Joes,” Schillinger said. “In order to get the Jimmys and the Joes, you’ve got to get them in the recruiting and win the recruiting battles against other schools in our region. And in the last couple years, we’ve done that. We’ve (the DSU football team) done a really good job the last couple years, as far as recruiting, and the other programs have done a great job, too.”
But finances will always be pivotal, especially at the end of the recruiting processes when parents are wondering how much college will cost their children. If other schools are offering full rides, then DSU coaches have to sell other aspects of attending the university.
“Many times, dollars come into play, and that’s just a hard fact of life for people who are trying to make their way through college because of the cost of it,” Daniel said.
Schillinger said academics and character play roles in recruitment as well.
“Those are the types of kids we want to get,” Schillinger said. “So our scholarship dollars have to be up to par. We have to make sure we get every fund we can to make it as affordable as possible to come to school here.”
In the real world, Daniel said, there’s even more to it.
“A lot of these high school kids have the dream of going on and playing in college, and part of that is getting a college scholarship,” Daniel said. “The kids are very conscious of it. They know it’s a competitive market, and they’re looking for a competitive scholarship. Parents are the same way.”
Though the Blue Hawks may compete against NSAA teams, most of their recruiting competition doesn’t happen within the league outside of a few occasions against the University of Jamestown, according to Daniel.
Some of the competing schools - especially those that are private, Daniel said - use athletics to drive enrollment. For example, by offering spots on the football team or offering more sports, schools can bring in more students.
“You would love for a student-athlete to pick somewhere for everything but the cost or the money,” Schillinger said. “You would hope that they would choose it for a fit, for the program, their education or because they want to win at certain places. You hope it doesn’t come down to that dollar. And in some cases, I’m not going to lie to you, we win because of the cost and that type of stuff.”
Schillinger continued: “It’s not about the money. It’s about everything else you can provide for that kid through academics and all the other opportunities they have. We’ve got something going, and we’ve got a winning program going.”
But past successes don’t always click with the young athletes and their parents who may get caught up in dollar amounts, Daniel said. Even after preaching the bottom line, there can’t be a large difference in dollars when schools compete for commitment signatures.
That’s difficult for DSU, Schillinger said, because the university scarcely offers full-ride scholarships or even half scholarships to student-athletes. With the scholarships DSU can offer, Schillinger said, the bottom line typically remains low to play sports at DSU compared to other schools.
“We’ve been able to do a pretty good job of keeping school costs relatively low compared to other schools in our region,” Schillinger said. “So we’re really trying to break it down to the bottom line of cost for our scholarship dollars.”
Stunted dreams of expansion
Like just about every athletic program in the country, DSU officials said they want to expand. That not only would include higher budgets for every sport, but also upgraded infrastructure.
Daniel said he would one day like to see funds to build a more modern facility for basketball and volleyball because, while there are other factors involved, it would bring in fans and possibly more recruits.
And better recruits would mean more success, which gives a better chance of bringing in more money, which gives DSU a better shot of offering recruits better scholarships.
In other words, DSU’s future relies heavily on money.
“Success breeds success and people want to be involved with success,” Daniel said. “We’ve been very, very successful on what I would say is on a minimal amount of dollars. We’re trying to get better, and we want to be better across the board in all of our sports. We know it’s not just dollars. There’s more than that. But scholarship dollars are one of the factors that allow you to be better.”

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