Budget cuts coming to Iowa athletics department

Members of the Iowa football team arrive at the Eastern Iowa Airport on Jan. 2, 2005. Iowa beat Louisiana State in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1, 2005.

Members of the Iowa football team arrive at the Eastern Iowa Airport on Jan. 2, 2005. Iowa beat Louisiana State in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1, 2005. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta has told coaches and administrators to trim their budgets for the upcoming 2010 fiscal year.

“If our revenue is going to be down, and we anticipate it could be, then our expenses have to go down because we’re self-sustaining,” Barta said.

Barta and his staff has not targeted specific areas, and everything is up for evaluation – except the sports themselves.

“We’re not considering cutting any sports at this time,” he said.

Budget cutting likely will involve travel and scheduling, the most visible expense outside of coaching. Iowa’s athletics department spent more than $4.2 million in travel during the 2008 fiscal year, according to documents provided to The Gazette through the Freedom of Information Act. But that’s a drop of more than $1.1 million from the 2007 fiscal year.

Travel costs often shift like a yo-yo depending on football and basketball schedules. During the 2007 fiscal year, Iowa’s football team spent nearly $2.17 million on travel, then a three-year low. But the men’s and women’s basketball teams saw travel costs soar by more than $360,000 combined, costing the department nearly $5.35 million.

“I’m not a micromanager in general, not just in budgets, but in all things,” Barta said. “I’ve asked every unit, whether it’s a coach for a sport or any other area in our department, and I’ve said, ‘We need to cut back in anticipation of our revenues being down and where are you going to cut?’ So each unit head, each head coach, each director is coming to me with ideas. I’m letting them come up with the way.

“If they have a particular trip, they think they can still go on —competitively, it’s important to them — but they’ll cut in some other areas, then I leave it up to them as long as we get to the bottom line.”

During a bowl season, the football program generates about 40 percent of the department’s total travel expenses. In recent years the school charters flights to all football road games but Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa State. Lately, Iowa has played those schools in the same school year.

Iowa’s football travel declined steadily for three years following the 2005 fiscal year (2004 football season), when the program spent $2.46 million in travel costs. That figure dipped to $992,265 in fiscal year 2008. Part of that financial drop was associated with three bus trips (Iowa State, Wisconsin, Northwestern) and not traveling to a bowl game. Football travel costs expect to rise for the 2009 fiscal year because of five regular-season road flights and a bowl trip to Tampa, Fla.

This fall, Iowa football will catch a break in travel costs by busing to Wisconsin and Iowa State, while flying to Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State. In a Big Ten schedule change, Iowa will host Northwestern for the second straight season.

“Every year you take a look at your conference matchups and, it seems to go every couple of years, the travel goes up and down,” Barta said. “It certainly is this coming year; we look like we’re going to catch a break. We have policies about when we travel to certain areas, when we’ll bus versus when we’ll fly. So we’re doing everything we can to come up with ways to reduce our expenses.”

“By the time you take a large group like that, get them from campus to the airport get there in time to get through screening, go through all the of the security process, you’re almost there anyway.”

Two midrange football locations — Minnesota and Illinois — are taken out of the discussion this year. Iowa doesn’t play at Minnesota until 2009 and doesn’t travel to Illinois until 2012.

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz has no problem re-evaluating his program’s expenses to help the department weather the tough financial climate.

“I think everybody in the department is being asked — and rightfully so, and reasonably so — to be fiscally responsible and see if there’s something we can do,” Ferentz said. “Times aren’t like they always were, things are different everywhere on every plain. So if there’s something we have to do or can do, we’re going to do that, certainly.”

Like with the football program, fortunate men’s basketball will aid the bottom line this fall. Iowa plays in Kansas City next November in the CBE Classic, and its two non-conference road games are trips to in-state rivals Northern Iowa and Iowa State. The basketball team will take buses to all three venues, said Jerry Strom, Iowa’s director of men’s basketball operation. Iowa likely will host an ACC opponent in the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge next year after playing at Boston College last season.

Iowa may alter some of the day trips while competing on the road. But it won’t change its policies on student-athlete welfare such as altering meal per diem or stacking more than two athletes to a room, Barta said.

“There are quality control issues to make sure the experience is great for the student-athlete,” Barta said. “But then after that, the coach has discretion.”

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