UNI Offensive Coordinator Rick Nelson celebrates after the team's victory over Maine at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Nov. 29, 2008. (Jonathan D. Woods/The Gazette)
CEDAR FALLS — A $600,000 drop in university funding to the Northern Iowa athletics department led to elimination of the school’s 103-year-old baseball program. But reducing one sport doesn’t absolve UNI athletics from future financial problems, either.
The athletics department has used its financial reserves to cover past shortfalls. According to financial records sent to the NCAA and obtained by The Gazette through the Freedom of Information Act, UNI athletics showed a $251,000 surplus during the 2008 fiscal year, the most recent year with complete data. But it also listed more than $222,000 in revenue taken from endowment and investment income. A private audit of UNI’s athletics department listed $34,545 in expenses over revenue that fiscal year.
“The athletic department has used its reserves to balance its budget, and there are no reserves to be able to do that any longer,” UNI Athletics Director Troy Dannen said. “We have to make sure our budget is balanced just based on what we do.”
During the 2008 fiscal year, UNI’s athletics department listed revenues of nearly $16.6 million, with expenses totaling $16.347 million in the NCAA report. However, institutional support and student fees totaled nearly $6.6 million, or almost 40 percent of its revenue.
“Most schools of our ilk, I-AA schools, still operate at 50 to 60 percent of their athletic department’s operating budget is coming from institutional support,” Dannen said. “That’s student fees plus general fund support.”
During the 2008 fiscal year, football provided the most revenue — and carried the largest financial burden. Football brought in nearly $2.7 million in revenue, but spent more than $3.2 million. Football earned nearly $885,000 in ticket sales and $330,000 in guarantees from a road trip to Iowa State that season. But it also received nearly $400,000 in student fees and more than $727,000 in institutional support.
Men’s basketball was the only moneymaking sport that year, with nearly $325,000 more in revenue than expenses. But it received more than $510,000 in student fees and institutional support.
Dannen is focused with maximizing revenue in football and men’s basketball and said each sport has potential to do so. Dannen cited four primary revenue streams in athletics: corporate gifts, gameday sales, donations and university/state support. Even with the $600,000 hit in university/state support, he said the said the department’s financial outlook is good.
“Football revenue was up $300,000 this year and the crowds were smaller,” Dannen said. “It’s just that elasticity point of where the price is and the crowd. There’s a lot of upside from the football standpoint.
“Basketball, we’re averaging 66 percent of capacity, and we have a good program right now so we have opportunity there. Given the strength of the program — that’s the blessing in all of this — that while we’re losing on one end of things (direct university support), the department’s uniquely in position to have strong revenue-generating football and basketball (programs).”
Streamlining costs also will help UNI’s financial profile. UNI receives $400,000 to play at Iowa this fall and will pay for only a bus trip. The school received a similar guarantee last year to play at Brigham Young, but spent much of that revenue in travel costs.
As for the other sports, such as wrestling, women’s basketball and volleyball, Dannen said there is revenue potential.
“Even if we look at our wrestling revenue numbers, even if you double those, it’s not going to off-set, significantly off-set the expenses,” Dannen said. “I’m looking at revenue potential in football and men’s basketball. There’s greater revenue potential in women’s basketball and volleyball right now. “