Hilltopper Athletic Foundation has gap of over $5 million

Tyler Eaton

The Hilltopper Athletic Foundation, a foundation that helps cover athletic program costs at WKU, is reporting a gap in funding of approximately $5.5 million in the foundation’s annual fund, according to the HAF donor guide. The annual fund is used to assist in paying the costs of student-athlete scholarships.

According to the HAF’s donor guide, the foundation has seen about a 25 percent increase in annual fund revenue over the past five years. But the scholarship bill for student-athletes increased by about 35 percent in that same time period. The HAF claims that it fell $6 million short of fulfilling the costs of student-athlete scholarships in 2016.

When the HAF annual fund falls short of covering the cost of scholarships for student-athletes, the funding for those scholarships must come from other sources, which includes school funding, according to the donor guide.

As previously reported, if the amount of funding being put towards athletics from the school decreases due to WKU’s current budget deficit, the amount students have to pay to keep the program afloat could increase. Schools with comparable donor amounts in C-USA receive a large amount of their athletics funding from student fees.

According to a North Texas report that included every school in C-USA, WKU had the third-highest amount of annual fund contributions, wedged between Texas-San Antonio and Charlotte with $2.5 million. According to a USA Today finance report, both UTSA and Charlotte had university athletic funding below $5 million and student fees over $10 million, with Charlotte’s falling just below $20 million in 2016. WKU athletics received $4.12 million in student fees in 2016, according to the USA Today report.

President Timothy Caboni said in January that everything was “on the table” in regards to athletics funding and the university’s $40 million deficit.

WKU athletics has used HAF funds before to help avoid sinking the university’s deficit further beyond its current $40 million mark. The HAF is providing the funding for basketball head coach Rick Stansbury’s $150,000 raise.

HAF executive board member and donor Craig Browning acknowledged the shortage in the annual fund, but said that making sure WKU is competitive in athletics would help narrow the gap.

“What everyone has to keep in mind is, there’s a much better probability that you’ll be able to make up that gap if you have success in athletics,” Browning said. “I think that we’re in as good a position as I’ve seen us in 20 years or more … holistically, when you can have broad success, that broad success brings more value than just an isolated sport.”

Browning said that alumni will be more likely to donate if the programs are successful, and in order to close that gap through success, WKU has to hire and retain good coaches like Stansbury.

The HAF is a group of over 2,000 donors that donate to cover the costs of the university’s athletic spending. These donations help cover the cost of scholarships, facilities and recruiting, among other things, according to the HAF website.

WKU has won 23 conference championships in C-USA, including conference championships in football in late 2016 and conference championships in volleyball in both 2016 and 2017. In 2017, the HAF closed the gap to about $5.5 million, according to the HAF donor guide, which covered about 20 percent of scholarship costs last year.

While the HAF was designated as the source of funding for Stansbury’s raise, they will also likely be called upon to help fund planned renovations to both Houchens-Smith Stadium and Diddle Arena.

The renovations, projected to cost a combined $2.4 million, are pegged to be completed before the next football and basketball seasons begin, per a Bowling Green Daily News report.

According to that same report, athletic director Todd Stewart hopes to pay for the project “completely” with private funds.

Unless the HAF sees a massive spike in donors and donations in upcoming years, the university is going to have to find a way to fill the gap being left between how much the HAF is providing for scholarships and how much is needed. If WKU has to cut athletics funding, the HAF missing nearly 80 percent of the student-athlete scholarship funding would likely mean the students have to pay the bill.

Reporter Tyler Eaton can be reached at 270-776-6797 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler_eaton1022.