NDSU athletic budget will take a hit as a result of coronavirus pandemic
FARGO — No Big Dance, no big money for Division I athletic departments this season. Last month's cancellation of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will be felt all the way to north Fargo and the coffers of the North Dakota State athletic budget.
NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen said he expects the distribution check from the NCAA to be about $600,000 less than it normally is, which is usually around $800,000. The good news for the university is it’s a one-year hit and the funds should be reinstated next season.
And with an overall budget for 2019-20 of $24.8 million, NDSU will look for ways to absorb that hit and any others that come via the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We try to look at these things in the big picture,” Larsen said. “Are there other revenue streams that can help us or how can we take a look at expenses?”
The NCAA returns about 60% of its revenue directly to Division I conferences and their respective schools. But the NCAA announced earlier this week that its Board of Governors voted to distribute $225 million in revenues in June as opposed to a normal year of around $600 million because of the remaining winter and spring sports being canceled.
It’s not the first time the NDSU athletic department will face a cut of some sort in recent years. In 2017, it took an $800,000 cut in state funding as part of a directive from the North Dakota Legislature to cut costs. The school formerly received $2.1 million at the time.
NDSU accounted for that in a variety of ways from a hiring freeze to cost-cutting measures in equipment. The budget cycle for the athletic department begins every July 1 and currently each sport is going through the process of budgeting requests for the 2020-21 school year.
“We’re working through all those things, meeting with coaches and department directors and going through what their requests are,” Larsen said.
NDSU is scheduled to receive a $650,000 guarantee from its football game at the University of Oregon in September. Larsen said there have been no discussions with the Ducks in light of the current pandemic. The contract does stipulate that if the game were to be canceled that Oregon would not be liable for the guarantee.
On a bigger scale with the future of college football this year, Larsen said, “That’s much farther down the road at this point.”
On the plus side, season ticket sales for football at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome appear to be on par with the last few seasons. The deadline for renewal is Wednesday, “but obviously we’ll offer some flexibility with the way things have transpired,” Larsen said.
NDSU did reduce the number of tickets allocated to students by about 500, the result of student attendance being down in recent years. Those season tickets will go on sale May 1 as well as others that may become available from things like non-renewals or people changing seats.
It’s the second time the university has taken away student seats because of lack of attendance. In 2018, it took an estimated 570 tickets from the student section in exchange for $100,000 less in student fees to the athletic department. At its peak, students had about 4,000 seats.
Gate City Bank Field seats 18,700 for football with a standing-room capacity of more than 19,000.
Indoor football facility paused
The planned indoor football facility was gaining fundraising momentum, Larsen said, before the coronavirus pandemic essentially shut down the country. The project hit the pause button in seeking further gifts.
“Now is not the right time to go out and ask people,” Larsen said. “This will delay things but at what level we don’t know.”
The indoor facility was first revealed to the public in May of 2018 as a $37.2 million project on the site of the current outdoor practice fields south of the Sanford Health Athletic Complex. The multi-use space is slated to accommodate several sports and is expected to include locker room, weight room, sports medicine and meeting space.
“We had some gifts that were close to closing,” Larsen said. “When things resume, hopefully we’ll be able to gain some of that momentum back and get going. It’s the No. 1 priority but I understand why we’re taking a pause.”
It is one of three facility projects on the table in the athletic department along with a softball and baseball indoor hitting facility and replacing the outdoor track.
While fundraising has slowed, Larsen said planning and design will still move forward with all three projects.
Track may adjust coaching model
With the retirement of head men’s track and field coach Don Larson and assistant men’s basketball coach Will Veasley taking a similar position at Illinois Chicago, the department is looking for two new coaches.
That button is not being paused. The basketball position was posted this week.
“It makes it a little different,” Larsen said. “Typically with a search you want to get people on campus and do those things.”
He also noted that typically in assistant coaching hires that there is a pre-existing relationship that helps make the process easier.
The track position could be more complex. Larsen said the department is studying different models of leadership for the program, such as having one coach oversee both men’s and women’s teams. Both programs currently share assistants based on the event.
For instance, Andrew Carlson handles the distance running and Justin St. Clair the throws for both men’s and women’s programs.
“We’ll see what makes the most sense,” Larsen said. “We’ve seen the last couple of years those two to so much together from travel to budget to equipment. We’ll see what the most efficient model is.”
NDSU studying NCAA eligibility ruling
The NCAA Division I Council this week approved a measure that will allow all spring sport athletes to get another year of eligibility. That includes seniors who could return next season, which could have a financial impact on NDSU’s scholarship budget.
Each Division I school has the option of offering those seniors the same scholarship as this year, a reduced scholarship or no scholarship. Larsen said the spring sport coaches are currently evaluating the level of interest of current seniors to see “what the dollar figure looks like.”
“We’re working through those numbers,” Larsen said. “There are a lot of senior student-athletes who are graduating. Some may not have the ability to come back, whether they’re committed to a grad school or moving on.”