College athletic programs are responding to skyrocketing inflation just like everyone else — they’re looking for ways, big and small, to save money.
In the Power Five, home to college sports’ biggest budgets and most significant resources, schools are working with sponsors and other partners to try to bridge the financial gap. When moving to smaller institutions where budgets and resources are tighter, creativity is a must.
For schools of all sizes, travel and meals are the most difficult issues.
Nebraska, with 24 sports and a $168 million athletic budget, hopes to work with beef and chicken vendors this year to find more cost-effective ways to order food for the practice table. It also forces more non-profit groups to work at concession stands to reduce labor costs.
The school predicts that the cost of doing business will be about $3 million higher than if the U.S. inflation rate had not increased to more than 8%.
Arizona, which has a $101.6 million budget and 21 sports, could see a $4 million increase in project costs, according to Derek van der Merwe, the Pac-12 school’s assistant vice president and chief operating officer for administration and athletics.
“You have to work closely with all your teams to see what changes you can make to cover those costs in your operating budget, or you have to look for other ways to increase revenue to offset those costs,” van der Merwe. said. “The post-pandemic economy and insecurity comes with a lot of budgets that we have to manage, and that makes it difficult because we don’t know what to anticipate.”
However, these Power Five schools have capacious boosters they can often rely on in times of need, an insurance policy against budget woes.
At Mary Baldwin University, a private school of about 1,000 undergraduates in Staunton, Virginia, it’s a different story. The school competes in Division III of the USA South Athletic Conference, and most of its members are located in North Carolina, 3½ to 6 hours away.
In addition to travel costs, there are also accommodation and food expenses.
The Fighting Squirrels don’t field a football team because they didn’t start admitting men until 2017, but added baseball and men’s basketball last year. The new programs began just as the athletic budget, which was cut by 20 percent during the pandemic, was restored to levels prior to these additions, athletic director Tom Burns said.
“So we’re doing things here using shoes,” he told The Associated Press. “And we do it as well as we can. But inflation is not helping us.
The school relies on its own creativity and local generosity.
Men’s basketball, which is 8-13 in its inaugural season, will play exhibitions against two Division I programs instead of a pair of scrimmages that could be more beneficial to player development, hoping to bring in $3,000-$4,000 each to pay for the team’s basketball shoes. .
“The baseball, softball and women’s basketball teams all work in the concession stands or as ushers at James Madison football games,” Burns said, traveling on a bus provided by a local company for a fee. The school is also in talks with a used car dealer to provide a free car for buses to use on recruiting trips, and has local restaurants that sometimes provide discounted food.
“So those are things we have to do. We also do nickels and dimes. The women’s soccer team has a Kona ice machine at games, so things like that,” Burns said.
Although they are unlikely to have to resort to such measures, larger schools are not immune to tightening their belts wherever possible. Coaches’ requests for equipment are scrutinized and sometimes they are asked to give something up in return.
But they all still have to travel and eat.
Nebraska plans to spend $9.2 million on athletic department travel this year, CEO and CFO Doug Ewald said. That’s a 17% increase, or $1.3 million. Arizona, meanwhile, expects its sports travel costs to increase by 20-25% compared to last year, van der Merwe said.
Forecasting helped Iowa State avoid some of the increases, senior associate athletic director Chris Jorgensen said, by locking in the cost of charter flights months or even years in advance, while rival Iowa football travel will increase significantly.
Charter flights for the Hawkeyes will be 8.5 percent higher and charter bus costs will increase 12 percent, associate athletic director and chief financial officer Greg Davis told the AP.
Nebraska’s training schedule will see food costs increase by about 20% this year, from $3.2 million to $3.8 million. Nebraska athletes consume 2,200 pounds of beef each month, and Ewald said the athletic department hopes to work with vendors to find ways to get better deals by buying in bulk.
Arizona, like Nebraska, is trying to absorb the additional costs of inflation by tightening its belts. One thing is not negotiable, van der Merwe said.
“Our philosophy is that we make sure that the student-athlete experience is a priority in everything we budget and plan,” he said, “and everything around that is constrained to ensure that we maintain the integrity of that priority.”
The philosophy is the same at Randolph-Macon College, another Virginia Division III school. Athletic director Jeff Burns credits the school’s athletic success for allowing it to dip 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 haves are going to be able to deal with it, and the have-nots are probably going to be forced to make some changes,” Burns said.
After more than three decades in the sport, Mary Baldwin Burns isn’t imagining things. He took the job six months before the pandemic began.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “But you know what? It makes every day interesting.”