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UND’s Kennedy: Sports could see more cuts

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The University of North Dakota may not be done cutting sports. New President Mark Kennedy, 47 days into the job, put the Athletic Department on notice Tuesday, announcing in a campuswide email that he will reassess the depart...

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The University of North Dakota may not be done cutting sports.

New President Mark Kennedy, 47 days into the job, put the Athletic Department on notice Tuesday, announcing in a campuswide email that he will reassess the department because of a $1.4 million shortfall for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Kennedy moved the department’s chief financial officer out of Athletic Director Brian Faison’s control and under the university’s Finance Department, while saying he will form a group to examine “a number of factors, including the sports we participate in, conference participation, the number of athletes that we serve and the cost of the programs.”

Kennedy said he wants the process to be done by January.

Kennedy was on a bus trip to western North Dakota with new faculty when the email was sent and was unavailable for further comment.

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“He doesn’t have anything to say beyond the message that we sent to the campus,” university spokesman Peter Johnson said.

UND cut baseball in April under interim President Ed Schafer and threatened to cut men’s golf if it doesn’t reach certain fundraising levels by certain dates throughout the next two years. Those cuts were expected to save UND roughly $720,000.

The state’s revenue shortfall led to mandatory budget reductions across the state. Faison said those budget cuts created problems for the Athletic Department.

“Because of the reduction in revenue from the state, we ended up with a $1 million cut during the middle of the year,” he said. “That was part of the issue for us. To do something like that in the middle of the year turned out to be not possible. We’re frustrated with it as well. At the end of the day, we couldn’t climb that mountain. That’s part of it.

“Some scholarship costs were more than anticipated and we had some labor costs that were higher and operating costs. Each of them cost more than what was projected. Add all of that together, and take a cut in the middle of the year, and frankly, it’s hard to stop in the middle. You’re under contract with games and travel. You have scholarship commitments. You have coaching contracts. To turn on a dime, at the end of the day, we couldn’t do it.”

Faison said that the Athletic Department has already made a budget adjustment of $2,425,320 through decreased expenses and increased revenue for the 2016-17 fiscal year. That includes factoring in an increase in scholarship expenses for full amended grant-in-aid scholarships -- stipends that cover extra expenses outside of tuition, room and board, fees and books.

UND offered full amended grant-in-aid scholarships (often called full cost of attendance scholarships) in men’s and women’s hockey only last year. It plans to do it for all sports for 2016-17.

More cuts? Most of UND’s programs are core sports in the Big Sky Conference, meaning they are mandatory if UND wants to remain in the league.

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Non-core Big Sky sports are men’s and women’s hockey, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s golf and softball. While men’s hockey, the reigning Division I national champions, drives the Athletic Department’s revenue train, Tuesday’s announcement created angst with the other sports.

Fans of some teams -- including core sports not at risk of being cut -- have started advocating for certain sports to go.

Faison acknowledged that he’s concerned about uneasiness around non-core Big Sky teams.

“That’s a worry that I can’t address other than to tell them we have to go through this process,” Faison said. “This was a process that really started with President Schafer. He’s the one who really brought up the issue in the middle of his interim term.”

In his email to campus, Kennedy said the same.

“This action is a continuation of a conversation started by interim President Ed Schafer, who suggested that the university take a hard look at our athletics program with an eye to ensuring we have the right number and mix of Division I athletic programs,” Kennedy wrote.

New conference? Kennedy hinted at the possibility of UND looking at its conference situation, too.

While it competes in the Big Sky Conference, the other three Division I institutions in the Dakotas compete in the Summit League for most sports and the Missouri Valley Football Conference for football.

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UND had the option of joining the Summit back in 2010, but the MVFC was not an option. So, UND went to the Big Sky.

UND’s future options are limited and are contingent on going to the Summit for most sports and finding a football affiliation in either the MVFC or Big Sky. Faison said there’s nothing imminent on the conference level, though.

“You always want to keep your options open,” he said. “It makes sense financially and competitively as far as getting the Dakota schools together -- in my world, that makes a lot of sense -- but there really hasn’t been a lot of discussion about that. We haven’t had any active discussion about conferences at this point.”

New CFO coming Faison said Kennedy’s decision to move the CFO under control of the president’s office “makes perfect sense.” He said it will make communication easier.

The next question is who will be the CFO.

Randy Magill, who was hired nearly four years ago, has accepted a job at Western Kentucky University and will be leaving the school in two weeks.

The Finance Department at UND declined questions and referred them to the President’s Office.

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