CEDAR FALLS — When Troy Dannen interviewed for the Northern Iowa athletics director position one year ago, he advocated addition — not subtraction — as the goal in bringing UNI under Title IX compliance.
Now, less than one year after accepting the job, Dannen was slapped with a $600,000 cut in state/university funding for the next fiscal year. His plans are history, as is the school’s 103-year-old baseball program.
“I had a plan to address the gender equity without eliminating a sport,” Dannen said. “I did not anticipate the fact that there would be this major cutting in state funding this year. It’s what I signed on for, but it’s not what you anticipate.”
UNI athletics received $5.5 million in direct institutional support this year. Next year, that number falls to $4.9 million in direct support, and Dannen expects that funding to decrease annually. UNI had depleted its reserves in previous years to balance the books, and Dannen said he was forced to cut a sport.
UNI could not drop a women’s sport because of gender equity issues. Females comprise 57 percent of UNI’s students but only 39 percent of its athletes. Of UNI’s six male sports, three — football, basketball and golf — were not considered. Football and basketball earn more than $5.1 million in revenue. Golf’s expenses barely total $75,000. It came down to baseball, wrestling and track.
“We have the best indoor track facility in the Midwest and one of the best in the country in track and field,” Dannen said. “Wrestling, we also own the facility. Baseball, when you don’t own the facility — that’s one thing if you start laying down the sports against one another — we don’t control our own facility. We’re paying rent.”
Climate, Dannen said, also was a factor. UNI’s baseball team played its first 23 games this season away from home. Its first home date was March 31. Still, the decision to eliminate baseball was difficult, he said.
Dannen anticipated some drop in funding based on state economics. Within hours of receiving the final figure, Dannen said he called UNI baseball coach Rick Heller and told him UNI would drop baseball.
“I think it was on the Wednesday (before a road trip to Little Rock, Ark. that began Friday, Feb. 20), I called Rick as I walked out of the office and we met that morning,” Dannen said. “That was when I knew. It’s just that week before they went on the road. But I didn’t know when to share it with the kids because they were taking off the next day. And then I called Rick when he was gone and said I want to meet with the team on Monday.”
Heller asked Dannen if there was a way to save the sport. Dannen agreed, because “this is an economic issue.”
“If you don’t offer the opportunity to fix the economics, then there’s more to it than just an economic decision,” Dannen said. “If you do offer the opportunity to fix the economics and granted it was a small window and probably it was going to be very high hill to climb to fix the economics. You never know, something could be out there. But if that fails, then there’s a whole other set of problems. It’s a bad situation either way.”
According to figures supplied to the NCAA and obtained by The Gazette through the Freedom of Information Act, UNI’s baseball program spent nearly $650,000 in fiscal year 2008. UNI baseball generated nearly $380,000 in revenues but about $225,000 came directly from state/university support or student fees.
UNI’s baseball expenses totaled about $400,000 this year, Dannen said. Heller proposed cutting his budget to $350,000 next year.
“They offered to make some cuts to the program but essentially at what point do you cut it and it’s still a Division I program?” Dannen asked. “Unless we could have filled the entire void, there was going to be no change …”
Dannen gave Heller until April 5 to raise $1.2 million to fund the program for the next three years. Program supporters raised $250,000 to fund the program on an annual basis, a total Dannen called “remarkable.”
“It just wasn’t enough to offset the expense,” Dannen said.
Inevitably, it fell short. In a letter addressed to the state Board of Regents, the Committee to Save UNI Baseball called the time frame and total figure “an unreasonable mountain to climb.”
“We couldn’t have done any more,” Heller said in the regents’ letter. “We couldn’t have done any more. I think it was apparent to everyone … that this decision came from the top and isn’t about money. To think we are losing one of only two Division I baseball programs in Iowa for political reasons is criminal. I couldn’t be more disappointed.”
Dannen acknowledges the tight window and set April 5 as a drop-dead date to give the players a shot at seizing scholarships at other schools.
“While I don’t know if that was the right decision, I don’t know if the right decision was to wait until the end of the season,” Dannen said. “In my mind, the more opportunity, the more notice … they basically had the notice as soon as I had the cut number from the institution. I thought that was the best way to go with it.”