Increased travel, food costs strain college athletic budgets | Tech US News

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College athletic programs are reacting to rising inflation the same way everyone else is: looking for ways big and small to save money.

In the Power Five, home to the biggest college sports budgets and most considerable resources, schools are working with boosters and other partners to try to bridge the financial gap. Working even at smaller institutions, where budgets and resources are smaller, creativity is essential.

For schools of all sizes, travel and food are the most challenging issues.

Nebraska, with 24 sports programs and a $168 million athletic budget this year, hopes to work with its meat and chicken vendors to find more cost-effective ways to order food for the training table. It is also bringing together more nonprofit groups to work in concession stands to reduce labor costs.

The school expects the cost of doing business to be about $3 million more than it would be if the U.S. inflation rate did not rise above 8%.

Arizona, which has a $101.6 million budget and 21 sports, could see project costs increase by $4 million, according to Derek van der Merwe, Pac-12 assistant vice president and director of school administration and athletics operations .

“You have to work closely with all your teams to see what changes you can make to absorb that cost within your operating budgets, or you have to look for other opportunities to increase revenue to offset those costs,” van der Merwe. said “The post-pandemic economy and insecurity are around many of the budgets we have to manage and it makes it a challenge because we don’t know what to anticipate.”

Those Power Five schools, however, have deep-pocketed boosters they can often rely on in times of need, an insurance policy for budget woes.

At Mary Baldwin University, a private school with about 1,000 undergraduates in Staunton, Virginia, it’s a very different story. The school competes in Division III in the US Southern Athletic Conference, and most of its members are in North Carolina, 3½ to 6 hours away.

In addition to the cost of the trip, there are overnight stays and food expenses.

The Fighting Squirrels do not field a football team, as they only began admitting men in 2017, but they added baseball and men’s basketball last year. The new programs began just as the athletic budget, cut by 20% during the pandemic, was restored to its previous level before those additions, athletic director Tom Byrnes said.

“So we’re doing things here in a bit of a shoestring,” he told The Associated Press. “And we’re doing it, you know, the best we can. But inflation isn’t helping us.”

The school relies on its creativity and a certain local generosity.

Men’s basketball, 8-13 in its inaugural season, will play exhibitions against two Division I programs, instead of a pair of games that may be more helpful for player development, hoping to bring in $3,000 to $4,000 per one to pay for team basketball. shoes.

“The baseball, softball and girls basketball teams work concession stands or as ushers at James Madison football games,” Byrnes said, traveling on a bus provided by a local business at a cost. The school is also negotiating with a used car dealer to provide a car for coaches to use on recruiting trips for free and has local restaurants that sometimes offer discounted food.

“So those are the kinds of things we have to do. We also do nickel and dime things. The girls soccer team has a Kona ice truck at the games, so things like that,” Byrnes said.

Although they are unlikely to have to resort to such measures, larger schools are not immune to belt-tightening whenever possible. Equipment requests from coaches are scrutinized and sometimes they are asked to give something up in return.

But everyone still has to travel, and eat.

Nebraska expects to spend $9.2 million on athletic department travel this year, executive associate athletic director and CFO Doug Ewald said. That’s an increase of 17%, or $1.3 million. Arizona, meanwhile, expects its sports travel costs to increase by 20% to 25% over last year, van der Merwe said.

The forecast helped Iowa State avoid some of the increases, senior associate athletic director Chris Jorgensen said, by locking in charter flight costs months or even years ago, while rival Iowa football travel will increase appreciably.

Charter flights for the Hawkeyes will be 8.5% higher and charter bus costs are up 12%, associate athletics director and CFO Greg Davies told the AP.

Nebraska’s training table will see food costs increase 20% this year, from $3.2 million to $3.8 million. Nebraska athletes consume 2,200 pounds of meat each month, and Ewald said the athletic department hopes to work with vendors to find ways to get better deals to buy the larger amount.

Arizona, like Nebraska, is trying to absorb the added costs due to inflation by tightening its belts. One thing is not negotiable, van der Merwe said.

“Our philosophy is that we make sure the student-athlete experience is the priority for everything we budget and plan,” he said, “and everything around it boils down to making sure we maintain the integrity of that priority.” .

The philosophy is the same at Randolph-Macon College, another Division III school in Virginia. Athletic director Jeff Burns credits the school’s athletic success with allowing him to dip into reserves to maintain that standard.

“There’s really a spectrum throughout Division III. You’re going to see a lot of different ways that the underdogs will be able to handle it and the underdogs will probably be forced to make some changes,” Burns said.

After more than three decades in the sport, that’s not how Mary Baldwin’s Byrnes envisioned things. He took the job six months before the pandemic began.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “But you know what? It keeps every day interesting.”

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