The UNM Athletics Department began last fall with a $1.5 million budget deficit.
This fiscal year, administrators have implemented several initiatives to reduce spending, but lower-than-expected revenues from football and basketball ticket sales have hampered their efforts to get back in the green.
Brad Hutchins, Deputy Athletics Director for External Operations, said football and men’s basketball are the biggest earners of the department’s 22 different programs.
“I will say that we’re not the only department experiencing the budget situation,” he said. “It’s true, the economy’s struggling. People aren’t renewing tickets (or) purchasing tickets. That’s why we’re evaluating everything we do and how we do it.”
In November, the department put together a budget committee to brainstorm ways to cut costs, he said. The committee has 11 members, including staff, student athletes and a coach.
“We wanted a diverse group of staff, as all are affected by the climate,” Hutchins said.
The committee is accepting anonymous feedback and money-saving suggestions from an online form available on the UNM Athletics website. However, despite the form being available for three months, they’ve only received 15 responses.
“You try to engage and cultivate support (in) an environment where we want your feedback, but ultimately that’s up to the individual,” he said. “Some people are a little bit more shy, but that’s why we made it anonymous. You don’t have to put your name on it.”
Athletics also distributed a survey to football fans to determine why ticket sales are down and will send one out for basketball as well, Hutchins said.
“This is including parking, ticketing, concessions. When we send a survey, we want to know about your experience,” he said.
Hutchins said the department did earn roughly $1.5 million through bonuses and fees from the football team’s several televised matchups last season, although the determination of whether the program makes another televised appearance next year depends on how the conference structures the television package.
“This year it certainly helped us out, but the realities are we didn’t hit our revenue goals in football and basketball, or our fundraising goals, so that money’s already accounted for,” he said. “So you say you’ve got $1.5 million, but the costs are already rising and that money’s already spent. It’s already accounted for in the budget.”
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However, some of the cost-saving initiatives have been successful, Hutchins said.
Athletics has begun a practice in which administrators evaluate whether the duties of a particular position can be absorbed by other staff members before hiring someone else to fill it.
Hutchins said the practice, while challenging at times, has saved money on salaries and benefits.
“We’ve also reduced our operational budgets — each program and department, we’ve taken money out of there to help us reduce (spending),” Hutchins said.
The football team also has several profitable guaranteed games scheduled, including a matchup at Texas A&M next season that will bring in $1 million for the program.
Hutchins said he also believes the liquor sales at games introduced this school year have helped the budget, although he emphasized that that revenue stream only works when game attendance is consistently high.
Hutchins said the department doesn’t know if it will seek more funding from student fees and is exploring all of its options.
$4 million from student fees currently go to Athletics, and in the fall the department did request an increase of $500,000 for next year.
Athletics is trying to minimize the effect of the budget deficit and budget cuts on student athletes, and so far the cuts have not affected any scholarships, Hutchins said.
“Typically there’s a lot of schools now that are doing cost of attendance across the board,” he said. “If you look at some of the Power Five conferences, it doesn’t matter what the sport is, they’re getting cost of attendance. That doesn’t happen here. There are a few sports getting it, because that’s all we can afford at this time.”
The NCAA is decreasing regulations, including allowing schools to provide unlimited meals to their students, Hutchins said, but UNM’s student-athletes are not benefiting from these changes because of the budget constraints.
“There’s some schools that have created a 24-hour eating center for all their student athletes. So if they’re training they can go any time of the day,” he said.
Hutchins said the department helps with UNM’s outreach and contributes to diversity among the student population.
“We have 450 student athletes and if you really look at it, 20 percent of the international student population comes from athletics,” Hutchins said. “20 percent of the African American student population comes from athletics. So we think we bring a lot of diversity to the University.”
It’s too early to tell if next semester the department will carry a budget deficit comparable to last fall, he said, but if they need to cut more of the budget, the expectations for teams’ performances need to change.
The department understands that everyone at the University is experiencing tight budget constraints, he said.
“Our coaches are working their tails off,” Hutchins said. “They work on a pretty thin budget as it is. It’s not like we’re living a lavish lifestyle here. We’re not. I’m proud of our coaches for doing what they do with what they’ve got. They fundraise a lot to supplement their budget.”
Cathy Cook is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Cathy_Daily.