It is back-breaking work, but cutting a budget that's already been trimmed to the bone is still possible. This athletic director explains his wood-chopping strategies.
By Dr. Tom Gioglio
Tom Gioglio, EdD, is in his eighth year as Director of Athletics at East Stroudsburg University and is chair of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Athletics Administrators Executive Committee. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
In early summer, Pennsylvania's governor announced an 18 percent reduction in funding for state-supported universities. Here at East Stroudsburg University, this would greatly affect athletics, as we are the second largest department on campus.
My first thought was: how can we endure more budget cuts? My second thought, however, was to get to work and come up with new solutions.
We decided to eliminate one team, our men's tennis squad. But beyond that, we did not want to reduce opportunities for our student-athletes. We wanted to avoid decreasing the number of contests, dropping any more sports, or cutting staff. We also felt we could not increase fundraising or other revenue streams any more than we already had.
Yet, we still needed to balance the budget. In response, we came up with six new strategies for saving university resources, which I will outline below. None of them were welcome, but at the same time, none will diminish the experiences of the student-athletes on our campus.
Reduce Contract Lengths: Many schools contract coaches and athletic department support staff for a 12-month period. If athletic administrators are able to restructure these positions to nine or 10 months, they can create substantial savings. For example, if an assistant coach is paid $50,000 on a 12-month contract, reducing this coach's contract to 10 months would produce a savings of over $8,000. If you have 15 assistant coaches who are contracted for 12 months at the above pay, restructuring their contracts to 10 months would save over $120,000 annually.
Here at ESU, we have implemented this strategy with success. Although it has not been popular with coaches or support staff due to the pay decrease and their need to work more efficiently during the shortened contract period, in discussing this decision with our staff, we asked them to take advantage of the additional time off in the summer to rejuvenate for the upcoming school year. We also suggested they could make additional income directing or working camps and clinics.
Restrict Travel: Our athletic department travel budget, based primarily on scheduled road games and coaches' recruiting visits, is another area we zeroed in on. Teams have no choice but to travel and compete against mandated conference opponents, but athletic administrators do have a choice when it comes to approving travel for recruiting and non-conference games.
Our solution here was to implement mileage limits for recruiting and competition against non-conference institutions. We also reduced the number of overnight trips, cut back on air travel, and limited the amount of support personnel we send to away games. Additionally, when smaller teams are traveling to the same destination, we are requiring them to travel together.
Decrease Utility Costs: At home, many of us save money by adjusting the thermostat when leaving the house, turning the lights off when leaving a room, and using energy-saving appliances. At ESU, we decided to put these practices in place in our athletic facilities. We now limit the field house's hours of operation (especially in the summer) and adjust the master thermostat to regulate the temperature appropriately. We also decreased the number of night games, are installing energy efficient lighting, and are looking into using water-saving showerheads.
Eliminate Paper: Even though many colleges and universities have made the commitment to "go green," the production of printed athletic department materials are usually not restricted. However, there is significant monetary (and environmental) savings in transferring the majority of printed materials to an electronic format. This includes handbooks, departmental forms, and promotional and marketing brochures such as media guides and schedules. We have moved most of these items to our athletic department's Web site, and saved significantly on printing and paper expenditures, as well as mailing costs. We are also taking advantage of technology, including social media opportunities, to promote and educate online instead of through print.
Increase Fees: Colleges and universities consider raising tuition annually as a means to offset rising operating costs. Athletic administrators can follow that lead and ask the student government--who are elected to represent the best interests of all students--to raise general student body activity fees to support the athletic department. We are currently discussing this idea with our Student Activity Association.
Hold Vacant Positions: It is common to have coaches or athletic department support staff take a new position at another institution following the season but before the budget cycle ends. When such resignations arise, there is money to be saved by not filling the position until the next academic year.
Although this strategy is not feasible for head coaches, we have found it works with assistant coach and support staff turnover. As long as the vacancy does not impact recruiting or the student-athlete experience, it does not harm operations in a significant way. And it saves quite a bit from the salary line, as well as the cost of employee benefits.
In truth, these strategies have not been overly popular with our coaches and athletic department staff. But I am confident that, with time, all parties will agree that they are better than the alternative of reducing scholarships, decreasing contests, and cutting programs, coaches, or support staff.
This is a crucial time for college and university athletic departments. Higher education institutions are faced with dwindling funding and reduced budgets. Incorporating one or several of the strategies listed here can help athletic administrators direct their departments without sacrificing a quality experience for their student-athletes.