College athletic programs are responding to rising inflation just like everyone else — they’re looking for ways, big and small, to save money.
In the Power Five, home of college sports’ biggest budgets and most significant resources, schools are working with funders and other partners to try to bridge the financial gap. Down the line towards smaller institutions where budgets and resources are smaller, creativity is a must.
For schools of all sizes, travel and food are the biggest challenges.
Nebraska, with 24 sports programs and a $168 million sports budget this year, hopes to work with its beef and chicken vendors to find lower-cost ways to order food for the practice table. It’s also assembling more nonprofit groups to work on concession stands to reduce labor costs.
The school estimates that the cost of doing business will be approximately $3 million more than if the US inflation rate had not risen above 8%.
Arizona, which has a budget of $101.6 million and 21 sports, could add $4 million to project costs, according to Derek van der Merwe, associate vice president and chief operating officer for administration and athletics at the Pac- 12 school.
“You need to work very closely with all of your teams to consider what changes you can make to absorb these costs within your operating budget, or look for other ways to increase revenue to offset these costs,” van der Merwe said. “The post-pandemic economy and uncertainty is affecting a lot of the budgets we have to manage, making it challenging because we don’t know what to expect.”
However, these Power Five schools have profound boosters that they can often count on in times of need, an insurance policy for household worries.
Things are very different at Mary Baldwin University, a private school with about 1,000 undergraduate students in Staunton, Virginia. The school competes in Division III of the USA South Athletic Conference, and most of its members are based in North Carolina, anywhere from 3½ to 6 hours away.
In addition to the travel expenses, there are accommodation and subsistence costs.
The Fighting Squirrels do not field a football team as they only started admitting men in 2017 but added baseball and men’s basketball last year. The new programs began just as the sports budget, which had been slashed by 20% during the pandemic, was restored to its previous levels before these additions, said sporting director Tom Byrnes.
“So we do things with a minimum here,” he told The Associated Press. “And we do it, you know, as best we can. But inflation is not helping us.”
The school relies on their creativity and some local generosity.
Men’s basketball, 8-13 in its inaugural season, will play exhibitions against two Division I programs in lieu of a few scrimmages, which could be more helpful for player development, in hopes of raking in $3,000-$4,000 each for the team’s basketball shoes to pay .
“Baseball, softball and women’s basketball teams all work at concession stands or as ushers at James Madison football games,” said Byrnes, who was traveling on a bus provided by a local company for a fee. The school also negotiates with a used car dealer to provide the coaches with a car for recruitment trips free of charge, and has local restaurants that sometimes offer food at a discounted rate.
“So those are the things we need to do. We do nickel and dime stuff too. The women’s soccer team has a Kona ice cream truck at games, stuff like that,” Byrnes said.
While it is unlikely that the largest schools will have to resort to such measures, they are not immune to tightening their belts wherever possible. Trainers’ gear requests are scrutinized and sometimes asked to give up something in return.
But they all still have to travel and eat.
Nebraska expects to spend $9.2 million on athletic department travel this year, said Doug Ewald, executive associate athletic director and CFO. That’s an increase of 17%, or $1.3 million. Arizona, meanwhile, expects its athletic travel expenses to increase 20% to 25% year over year, van der Merwe said.
Foresight helped the state of Iowa avoid some of the increases, Senior Associate Athletic Director Chris Jorgensen said, by setting the cost of charter flights months or even years ago, while rival Iowa football travel is set to increase noticeably.
Charter flights for the Hawkeyes will be 8.5% higher and charter bus costs 12% higher, assistant sporting director and CFO Greg Davies told AP.
The Nebraska training table will see an approximately 20% increase in food costs this year, from $3.2 million to $3.8 million. Nebraska athletes consume 2,200 pounds of beef every month, and Ewald said the athletic department hopes to work with vendors to find ways to get better deals on buying larger quantities.
Arizona, like Nebraska, is trying to absorb the additional costs caused by inflation by tightening its belts. One thing is non-negotiable, said van der Merwe.
“Our philosophy is that we ensure the student-athlete experience is a priority in everything we budget and plan for,” he said, “and everything around it is constrained to ensure we maintain the integrity of that priority.” .”
The philosophy is the same at Randolph-Macon College, another Division III school in Virginia. Athletic Director Jeff Burns credits the school’s athletic success with allowing it to dive into reserves to maintain that standard.
“There really is a wide spectrum in Division III. You’re going to see a lot of different ways that the rich can deal with this, and the rich will probably be forced to make some changes,” Burns said.
After more than three decades in the sport, Mary Baldwin’s Byrnes didn’t imagine things. He took the job six months before the pandemic began.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “But, you know what? This keeps every day interesting.”