This month, the University of Buffalo announced that it would be reducing its sports teams from 20 to 16 teams. The affected teams are women’s rowing, men’s baseball, men’s soccer, and men’s swimming and diving, effective at the end of the spring 2017 season. “We operate in a hyper-competitive environment and are not immune to the financial challenges facing programs at our level,” said Athletics Director Allen Greene. “Regrettably, after exploring many scenarios, the reality is our current path is not sustainable and reductions reluctantly became the only option.”
Mr. Greene and athletic directors all around the country are faced with the challenge of providing a delicate balance between creating opportunities for their student-athletes, while also mitigating the skyrocketing costs associated with those opportunities. In today’s current climate, this can seem like an impossible situation with no simple answers.
Unfortunately, athletics are a very expensive venture, and the costs associated with competitive excellence escalate rapidly. Recent changes in NCAA regulations about student-athlete meals, cost-of-attendance, and subsidizing parent travel costs to NCAA championships has added hundreds of millions of dollars to athletic department budgets. Yesterday’s facilities won’t necessarily attract the prized recruits of tomorrow, and the hyper-competitive coaching market continues to drive coaching salaries. Across the college landscape, Athletics staff make tough decisions every day about where to invest limited resources for maximum impact.
Of the 128 FBS schools, only 24 generated more revenue than they spent in 2014. Athletic departments are constantly looking for ways to generate more revenue to cover the costs, sometimes they look at ways to cut costs, occasionally at the expense of their athletes, coaches, and programs. In 2014, Temple University reduced its intercollegiate programs from 24 to 17. Clemson University “made room” for women’s softball by cutting its women’s diving program. Clemson’s men’s swimming and diving and women’s swimming programs were phased out beginning in 2011.
As a former collegiate rower (coxswain, if we’re being specific), this topic hits especially close to home. Trust me, I am under no illusion that rowing is a revenue-generating spectator’s sport. In fact, I’m sure many people at my alma mater didn’t even know we had a team, but I digress. Having the opportunity to be a student-athlete for a DI program was one of the best experiences I have ever had, and I wouldn’t trade the 5 a.m. wake-up calls for anything. The key word in the previous sentence is opportunity – as in creating and protecting opportunities for student-athletes to compete, study and serve.
As a student-athlete, I had the opportunity to travel with my team to races and training trips. I had the opportunity to be cared for by a special team of sports medicine doctors and graduate students. I had the opportunity to walk on to a team and be offered a scholarship by my senior year. I had the opportunity to be a part of a premiere leadership academy just for student-athletes. I had the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself. Athletic departments are committed to protecting opportunities for its athletes, coaches, and University.
Mr. Greene’s situation is certainly not unique to just the University of Buffalo – many AD’s share his sentiment that the “current path is not sustainable.” Costs will continue to rise and the pressure to find new ways to stretch the athletics budget will continue to be a pressing issue.
But escalating costs are only the bottom half of the income statement: what about top-line revenues? Growing sustainable, organic revenues for university athletic departments is the mission of my company Fanalytical. I took the risk to be a member of its launch team in order to create and protect student-athlete opportunities. Fanalytical’s commitment to raising revenues by leveraging analytical insights aims to relieve some of these financial pressures. I was incredibly lucky to be a DI athlete and take part in all of the opportunities that followed, and as a member of Fanalytical, I hope that I can help other athletic departments provide that same amazing experience for their student-athletes. This is my “why.”