Athletics director concerned budget cuts could hurt WKU sports

WKU Athletics Director Todd Stewart stands before the Board of Regents on Jan. 26 in Jody Richards Hall to ask that Rick Stansbury’s annual base salary be raised by $150,000. At the Board of Regents meeting on Feb. 23 the WKU Budget Council reccommended a $1.3 million athletics budget cut.

Jeremy Chisenhall

Following the WKU Budget Council’s recommendation to cut over $1.3 million from the athletics budget, WKU athletics is now tasked with finding where to cut costs.

The exact amount of the recommended cut is $1,346,259 from university funding. That would be a 5.7 percent reduction of the athletic program’s 2017-18 proposed budget of $23.6 million. The $1.3 million signifies an approximate eight percent reduction that athletics is bearing for the overall $15 million deficit.

Athletics director Todd Stewart said he fears that difficult cuts may have to be made, which could threaten WKU’s athletic success.

“The biggest challenge is, because of all the other cuts we’ve had up to now, the easy cuts have long since been made,” Stewart said. “There aren’t anymore easy ones, and you know I think that’s what’s frustrating for everybody in athletics. You have to have coaches, you have to have trainers, you have to have a strength coach, you have to travel, so all the areas where we’re spending, you know, you really can’t cut those areas if you want to remain a Division I program.”

WKU has won 23 Conference USA Championships since joining the conference, more than double any other program in the conference in that time, but the program’s 2017-18 $23.6 million budget ranked 11th in the conference, according to university documents.

“The cuts just make it harder and harder to succeed in a very challenging landscape,” Stewart said. “I look at our track program as the most recent example. That was one that won championships on a pretty regular basis, and at the indoor championships, our men came in eighth and our women came in 11th. The budget cuts have finally caught up to our track program, and my concern is that if these kind of cuts continue you’re going to see that in a lot of other programs as well, and certainly we don’t want to have that.”

As cuts are made across the board, President Timothy Caboni made it clear after Friday’s Board of Regents meeting that every department, including athletics, will be affected.

“Everyone across the university will share in some part of this pain,” Caboni said. “They certainly will share in some portion of the reduction. At the same time, we want to make sure that we continue our winning traditions…that’s important for us as we work through our recruitment opportunities.”

Stewart said that he thinks athletics is a major opportunity for WKU to enhance recruitment and increase enrollment.

“Our university has a major enrollment problem, and I think that’s no secret, and we’re going to get out of it as a university if we bring more people to campus that have been here before and they’re excited about it,” Stewart said. “Athletics is really one of the best ways to do that, so that’s kind of something we take seriously, but it’s just become more and more challenging with just the cumulative effect of these cuts.”

In the budget restructuring plan, the Budget Council recommended that the university “ensure institutional support for Athletics is addressed in the RAMP [Resource Allocation, Management and Planning Committee] process in the development of a new budget model.”

Caboni accepted that recommendation, but also chose to take under advisement the second portion of the athletics recommendation that states, “the growth in per athlete athletic spending should not outpace the growth in per student academic spending.”

Stewart said he didn’t place any blame on Caboni, who he said has been put in a tough position.

“I do not blame Tim Caboni at all for any of this,” Stewart said. “He’s been handed an unwinnable situation … He had nothing to do with any of this, and it’s up to him, obviously, as the president, to fix a very challenging budget situation, and we all recognize that. And I hate what our entire campus is going through, I mean the angst and the stress that’s associated with this.”

WKU athletics’ $23.6 million budget was the third-most funded area of allocation in WKU’s 2018 budget, behind academic affairs, which was budgeted for $221.7 million, and Chief Facilities Officer, which was budgeted for $28.9 million.

During the regents meeting, Caboni said people in positions eliminated will be able to keep their position until June 30, unless they choose to leave earlier.

“The conversation around what the reductions are and what positions are, are ongoing,” Caboni said. “They’re ongoing in Potter College, they’re ongoing in our College of Engineering, they’re ongoing in student affairs, and so that’s the case with athletics as well.”

Sports editor Jeremy Chisenhall can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JSChisenhall.