Budget struggles hit athletic program

James Krause

DeKALB — Winning and losing is a part of any sport, but the athletic department has seen plenty of losses in the budget in recent years.

The university has seen huge budget cuts, lowered enrollment and a lack of state funding, which has caused major problems within the athletic department.

“The budget struggle is real,” said Sean T. Frazier, associate vice president and director of athletics, according to a March 19 NIU athletics press release. “Some of you might be tired of hearing about our budget challenges. We apologize but feel it is important to be transparent with this issue we deal with every day.”

Frazier also said over the last three years, the athletic department cut more than $2.7 million from the operating budget, forcing the department to be more conservative with its spending.

“The budget cuts are primarily from state budget fall, specifically, we had a two to three-year impasse which damaged our reserves,” Frazier said. “The campus has tried to share the pain, so to speak, to the different units. Auxiliary, academic units, everyone played a role in the process of cuts.”

Frazier said the decline in enrollment at NIU has affected them heavily, as every student enrolled pays a $797.04 athletic fee to cover admission to sporting events. That money goes to support special services and privileges all over campus.

“Another is enrollment decline, which we get hit heavily because 40 percent of our operating budget is student-fee based,” Frazier said. “So when we have a decrease in enrollment, that affects us as well.”

With enrollment going down and money being cut from the budget every year, finding where to make cuts is difficult on the department. This job typically falls on Debra Boughton, chief of staff and Finance and Operations director.

Boughton is one of the highest ranking officials in the department and helps develop a budget every fiscal year. Boughton said the department has a commitment to spare several areas of cuts, one being the 235 scholarships given each year to student-athletes.

Boughton also said the athletic department doesn’t want to cut entire sports programs, as once they are gone, it is difficult to bring them back.

“I always say when you are looking at budget reductions and these kinds of tough decisions, try not to make decisions you can’t come back from,” Boughton said. “It’s really hard to add back programs once you’ve made that tough decision.”

The commitment to scholarships and sports means cuts must come from other parts of the department, and unfortunately for the athletic department, the cuts are being made from within.

“We wouldn’t cut any operational budget for the sports programs, for the coaches — those areas were spared,” Frazier said. “Areas like athletic communications, marketing, athletic training and strength and conditioning, basically support areas to the programs were cut in some percentage.”

The athletic department has had to find ways to make up for lost ground, and Boughton said they are doing so through fundraising events and the selling of rights to different companies.

“We are in a unique situation where we are able to generate quite a bit of our own revenue,” Boughton said. “We’ve really put on a lot of pressure on those areas to retain these pieces of the department.”

Money is trying to be raised through competition as well. The football team got a $1.6 million payout to put the Florida State University Seminoles on the schedule for a game Sept. 22 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Football Head Coach Rod Carey said in a March 26 press conference the team took the game to help save jobs.

“I have to make sure I mention this; we took that Florida State game because of the budget situation we are in with the state,” Carey said. “Everybody is pulling their weight; we aren’t just saving jobs in the athletic department but all across campus as well.”

This is a strategy that has been executed in previous years as well, as NIU received around $820,000 Sept. 16 when the football team traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska and defeated the Cornhuskers 21-17, according to a Sept. 16 USA Today article.

“One of the more noticeable things has been game guarantees for football,” Frazier said. “We took a game we wouldn’t normally take, the Florida State game. We added that game to this year’s schedule for the amount of $1.6 million. What’s significant about that is we wouldn’t have taken that game because of the budget. We took it because of the $1.6 million.”

Frazier said adding 2018 opponents such as the University of Iowa, the University of Utah and Brigham Young University was also a direct reaction to budgetary cuts.

Frazier added that future cuts will come to the department and the university as a whole, and the responsibility of managing those cuts is on the department.

“There will be future cuts,” Frazier said. “The university has asked us for them, and we just have to roll with the punches. We are at barebone right now, but we need to be steadfast on our fundraising efforts and the things we need to do for cost containment.”

Boughton said that times will be tough for the university for a while, and it’s up to every department to pull through and tough it out.

“We’re going to get through, stabilize some of our university resources, stabilize our auxillary resources and weather this a little bit,” Boughton said.