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The Bismarck Tribune
FARGO - The University of North Dakota recently cut women's hockey, citing the sport's recent $1.9 million operating deficit during tight budget times for the university and state.
But UND women's hockey isn't the only athletic program running an operating deficit at the state's two Division I universities.
In fact, every sport in 2016 at UND and North Dakota State University spent more money than they brought in.
And, yes, that includes UND men's hockey and NDSU football, the crown jewels of college athletics in North Dakota.
Both programs ran significant deficits, according to the annual financial report each school is required to send to the NCAA. NDSU football had revenues of $4.5 million and expenses of $4.7 million, coming up about $201,000 short. UND men's hockey had total operating revenue of $4.3 million and expenses totaling $4.5 million, a loss of about $163,000.
That doesn't mean football is not a money-maker at NDSU. Athletic Director Matt Larsen said some corporate sponsorships or donations that are a result of football aren't necessarily reflected in the football revenue stream reported to the NCAA.
"So does it give you a pretty good guide?" Larsen said. "Yeah. But is it 100 percent indicative of every revenue and expense for each one of them? Not 100 percent and a lot of that is based on the way the NCAA requests the information and the way we put it in there. I think part of the public perception that is probably more accurate than not is a large part of our revenue is directly or indirectly driven from football."
Revenues for NDSU football included $2.4 million in ticket sales, $1.2 million in contributions and $529,000 in student fees. The top expenses were $1.6 million in coaching salaries, $1.3 million in athletic student aid, $718,000 for travel, $202,000 for game expenses, $146,000 for recruiting and $123,000 in athlete meals not associated with travel.
At both universities, the portions of their athletic department budgets not tied to individual sports were well into the black. Non-specific revenue versus non-specific expenses in 2016 was $10.4 million at UND and $6.6 million at NDSU, helping balance out the deficits each individual sport carried.
But it still wasn't enough to balance the budget at UND. According to the NCAA reports, UND's athletics department on the overall lost $1.4 million in 2016. At NDSU, the athletics budget ran a surplus, with nearly $1.8 million in revenue more than expenses.
The cost of collegiate sports programs emerged as an issue in North Dakota when UND dropped women's hockey. The school reported the women's hockey program lost $1.9 million in 2016 on operating expenses of $2.1 million and revenues of $212,000.
UND men's hockey reported revenues of $4.3 million and expenses of $4.5 million. Football at UND had the largest gap with revenues of $1.8 million and expenses of $4.1 million.
UND Athletic Director Brian Faison was out of the office and not available for comment late this week.
Women's basketball had the largest deficit at NDSU at about $687,000. Revenues totaled $491,000 and expenses $1.2 million.
"The biggest opportunity for us from a women's basketball standpoint, because we charge, is to increase ticket revenue," said NDSU's Larsen. "We've seen historically when the program is successful we can draw fans for women's basketball. That's the hope as we improve the product on the floor, you'll start to see that reflected in attendance and ticket revenue."
NDSU tries to make up for the expense differential in a variety of ways, such as its Team Makers booster club, advertising, corporate help, media revenue and licensing.
Football, certainly, plays a large role in all of those factors. For instance, if the school receives $800,000 in licensing as the result of shirt sales, it's impossible to specify how many of those shirts had a football reference on them. In the NCAA report, those revenues fall under a "non-program-specific" line item.
"And that's how we fund the balance of the revenue that supports all of our expenses," Larsen said.
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