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UND dollars invested in athletics increases in recent years, budget breaks even

GRAND FORKS -- The amount of money University of North Dakota puts into its athletics department has increased in recent years and reports show it almost always breaks even.

GRAND FORKS -- The amount of money University of North Dakota puts into its athletics department has increased in recent years and reports show it almost always breaks even.

Direct institutional support from UND to its athletics department has increased by 74 percent from $4.2 million in 2010 to $7.3 million in 2015, according to annual reports filed with the NCAA.

Athletics Director Brian Faison said UND athletics is beneficial in garnering community support and teaching the more than 400 students that participate in it leadership skills and responsibility.

"I think it's an institutional decision as to what level they value athletics as part of the overall mission of the university," he said.

The reports are based on UND's fiscal years, which run annually from July 1 to June 30. Those annual reports are due to the NCAA in January.

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Direct institutional support, which the document describes as unrestricted funds allocated to the athletics department by UND, federal work study support for student employees and unrestricted endowment dollars, peaked in 2014 at $9 million.

The direct funds figure is calculated during the annual budgeting process, said UND Vice President for Finance and Operation Alice Brekke.

"Similar to any other area they don't have a blank check," she said. "If revenues don't materialize, they need to look within their area to figure out how are things going to balance."

And that doesn't include indirect institutional support, which includes contributions to athletics from UND in the form of things like utilities, accounting, human resources and security.

Brekke said the number is an estimate but including that figure, UND put $8.5 million into athletics in 2015, a 60 percent increase from $5.3 million in 2010.

When budgeting, Faison said the athletic department doesn't look to direct institutional support to fill budget gaps.

Other contributions to the athletics budget come from participation in away games, donations, media rights, the NCAA, licensing and concessions, to name a few.

Of the 12 Big Sky Conference schools, UND was the sixth highest contributor of direct funds in 2015, according to data compiled and analyzed by USA Today. UND was second-highest, after Sacramento State, in total subsidies received.  
"That's an institutional position that UND has taken in terms of their support for athletics," Faison said.

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The numbers

UND athletics twice made more money than was spent (less than $1 million) in 2010 and 2011 while losing less than $1 million in 2012 and 2014. The athletics department broke even in 2013 and 2015, a fiscal year in which it both spent and generated about $25.5 million and offered 21 teams that year -- 11 women's and 10 men's.

As part of budget cuts facing UND, the men's golf and baseball teams are slated for suspension effective next year though there has been talk of fundraising to save the baseball team.

The most recent report was posted to the Office of the President website during the budgeting process in March, something interim Vice President for University and Public Affairs Peter Johnson said was because someone had asked for the document.

"We figured it was a good place to make it available to everybody," he said.

Interim UND President Ed Schafer said he would like to take a deeper look at the university's athletic department, which after the recent cuts will field 19 athletic teams. North Dakota State University, the state's other research institution with comparable enrollment near 15,000 students, has 16.

"The type of conversation President Schafer has referenced in terms of figuring out the balance within the institution, I don't think it's one or the other," Brekke said. "I don't think it's all athletics or all academia. I think it's the conversation about what is the mix that makes sense and is financially sustainable for the institution as a whole."

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Student fee contributions have increased 6 percent from $3.1 million in 2010 to $3.3 million in 2015.

In 2008, UND began playing in NCAA Division I in all sports, and Brekke said students were supportive though transition would cost more.

Each year, student fees earmarked for athletics are approved by a committee, and Faison said the department doesn't ever receive a figure and go back asking for more.

"We find other revenue sources or reduce expenses," he said.

Men's hockey makes the most ticket revenue annually, increasing from $3 million in 2010 to $3.6 million in 2015.

Faison said it's so popular they've essentially sold out.

"The ability to maneuver in the ticket area is a little bit challenging sometimes," he said.

Overall ticket revenue for all sports increased from $3.6 million to $4.3 million in those years.

Women's hockey ticket sales created $7,876 in revenue in 2010, a figure that increased to $21,377 in 2015.

Football generates the second most in ticket sales revenues, generating $410,486 in 2015 -- an increase from $355,710 in 2010.

UND is currently working with a design a logo to accompany its new Fighting Hawks athletic nickname but Faison said he's not relying on that to boost revenues when it is released this summer.

"I think it would be a mistake to overestimate or underestimate the impact the new mark will have," he said.


Scholarships and salaries

On the expenses side of the equation, salaries, benefits and bonuses cost $4.4 million in 2015, up from $3.1 million in 2010.

The documents also show a disparity between the average salaries of men's and women's teams head coaches. Coaches for men's teams made almost $57,000 more in 2015 with an average salary of $167,659 while the coaches of women's teams made $110,956.
That gap is even larger than in 2014 when head coaches for men's sports made an average of $153,792 and those leading women's teams made an average of $102,939.

That gap is something that needs to change, Faison said.

"We're trying our best to be with the market demands," he said. "If I had to pick an area amongst money we need to work on, it's our coaches salaries."

Other expenses include guarantees, severance, travel, game day expenses and camps.

Another large expense goes toward athletic student aid, which includes tuition discounts and waivers for athletes. That figure increased by 48 percent, from $2.9 million in 2010 to $4.3 million in 2015.

UND is currently covering cost of attendance scholarships for men's and women's hockey and will expand that to all sports next year, costing about $750,000, Brekke said.

Last fall, Faison estimated the move would cost about $731,000 to implement across the board. The scholarships are meant to cover more than tuition, room and board, and Brekke said this cost was part of the ongoing budget cuts made in athletics.

"For fiscal year '17 it's planned out assuming nothing else in the equation changes, and I want to emphasize that because there are lots of variables here," Brekke said. "As time goes forward there will always be variables that impact revenue and expense."

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