Fresno State faces difficult choices, changes.
The Fresno Bee
Rebruary 7, 2009
A new financial crisis for the Fresno State athletics program could lead to fundamental changes in how the Bulldogs conduct business and compete on the field, boosters and university officials say.
If only someone could figure out a way to do it.
"There's going to have to be some restructuring," says Walt Reinhardt, a former Bulldog Foundation president. But "I don't know where you start."
Athletic director Thomas Boeh says Fresno State's big-time athletic program is "sustainable," but change is inevitable.
"We'll have to make some hard decisions as we evaluate the future -- the immediate future and beyond," he says.
The past 18 months have been challenging. Boeh says the department was on track as of Dec. 31 for an operating deficit of nearly $1.2 million this fiscal year.
This comes on top of a nearly $1.9 million operating deficit in 2007-08, a year that, on a competitive level, was probably the most successful in school history.
The problems are simple and familiar: stagnant or declining revenues, and expenditures stubbornly resistent to reduction.
And, with a few exceptions, Boeh is attacking the problem with time-worn weapons: a hiring freeze except for necessary coaches, restrictions on nonessential travel and tougher oversight of purchases.
Boeh declined to discuss possible layoffs and furloughs: "We're trying to avoid changing people's lives. But everything has to be on the table."
What makes this crisis different is a national recession of stunning suddenness and severity.
Simply put, Fresno State's funding and operational model needs major repair, yet is difficult to change.
Travel costs are oppressive but largely untouchable -- the Western Athletic Conference extends from Honolulu to upstate Louisiana, which is like a league anchored on one end by San Diego and the other by Bangor, Maine.
The expense of about 250 scholarships, 450 athletes and 19 sports is hard to reduce -- Title IX mandates and NCAA rules eliminate or hamstring local decision-making.
And each of the funding streams that Fresno State athletics has come to depend on -- ticket sales, gifts, the Bulldog Foundation's annual fund drive, even a modest stipend from the university -- is being hammered by the recession.
Reinhardt, a Bulldog Foundation member for about a half-century, sums up the state of Fresno State athletics: "It's very scary."
Bad financial news
Fresno State's athletic budget crisis begins with the financial books -- they're full of bad news.
University officials project income of $24 million in the 2008-09 fiscal year ending June 30, more than 5% under budget. Projected expenditures are almost $25.2 million, essentially unchanged from budget estimates.
These projections are based on accounts as of Dec. 31. And there's the problem.
Football, the biggest revenue sport, is done. Men's basketball, the only other revenue sport of substance, is nearly done. Combined, they were projected to earn $7 million in gate revenue, 95% of total gate receipts; Boeh says they'll hit their target.
But ahead lie spring sports, long on unyielding expenses such as travel, historically short on ticket-selling potential. That means scarce opportunities to cut the deficit with more gate money, ample risk that the gap will grow if teams go far into the playoffs.
Boeh says donations are down dramatically, thus the deficit.
One bright spot is baseball. Season-ticket sales as of Tuesday afternoon were nearly $33,000 ahead of projections for the entire year.
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