WKU athletics among several reporting deficits

The WKU athletics department reported a $16.4 million deficit in 2012-2013 to the NCAA, according to the most recent USA Today Sports college athletics financial database released last year.

The report listed WKU’s total revenues in 2013 at $27,606,401, generated from $10,026,629 in school funds, $6,387,381 in student fees, $3,379,547 in contributions, $2,866,060 in rights/licensing, $2,847,904 in other funds and $2,098,880 in ticket sales.

WKU’s subsidy percentage, defined as student fees, institutional support and state money, sat at 60 percent at the time the database was released.

WKU Athletics Director Todd Stewart said the report isn’t indicative of how the athletic department has benefited from investments.

“The way our budget works: one-third of our budget is completely self-generated through ticket sales, sponsorships, concessions – any thing we sell for money,” Stewart said. “The other third is assistance from the university, and the other third comes from student fees. That’s not unusual. It’s a very normal allocation. So to imply there’s a $16 million deficit, we’re playing word games here, but I wouldn’t use the word deficit.”

WKU entered Conference USA with a budget of $22.9 million in 2013-14 — the ninth highest of the league’s 14 members. In the Hilltoppers’ last season in the Sun Belt Conference, WKU brought home five conference championships.

“I’ve taken great pride in the fact that this Texas A&M study, which is a legitimate study each of the past three years, has ranked us as one of the 20-most successful athletic programs in the entire country based on what we’ve achieved and what our resources are,” Stewart said.

Twelve of the C-USA’s 14 members reported deficits of 43 percent or higher — the highest being Florida International at 78 percent — to the NCAA at the time of the database’s release.

CBS Sports released a list of Group of Five conferences — Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference — having reported deficits, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham came in around the middle of the draw with a 64 percent subsidy percentage.

UAB, a C-USA affiliate with WKU, announced Tuesday that it is discontinuing its football program, becoming the first Football Bowl Subdivision school to shut down football since Pacific in 1995.  

UAB President Ray Watts made the decision official Tuesday, after more than a month of rumors surrounded the possibility of killing the program. Watts cited a campus-wide study from CarrSports Consulting that indicated the university could save $49 million over the next five years by discontinuing its football program.  

The reaction from UAB students, alumni and C-USA has been one of disappointment.   

“We are aware of the study, but disappointed with the decision to discontinue the sport of football at UAB, particularly because of its effect on the lives of the student-athletes and coaches that have worked so hard to restore the quality of the program,” Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said in a statement Tuesday. “We don’t fully understand the decision, nor agree with it, but do respect it and the authority of the UAB administration to make it.” 

WKU was in UAB’s shoes once before.

In 1992, the WKU budget committee recommended the Hilltopper football program be shut down after the state mandated a $6.1 million budget cut. However, former player, coach and athletic director Jimmy Feix, along with coach Jack Harbaugh, led a last-minute campaign to save the program. The Board of Regents voted to keep football at WKU in April of that year.

WKU cut its men’s tennis program in April as a direct result of the state’s $1.05 million cut in funding. The number resulted in 4.8 percent increase in undergrad student tuition.

Undergraduate students currently pay $432 a year for athletics fees, which equals out to $8,716,896 per year in student subsidy for the athletics department — down from $8,956,576 in 2012.

“We continue to fund these programs on the backs of students,” former faculty regent Patti Minter said. “If you look at the biggest source of revenue to our athletic programs, it’s not ticket sales, it’s not T.V., it’s not any of that stuff. It’s student fees.”

In 2011 and 2012, WKU totaled 21,048 and 21,124 in fall enrollment, respectively. Since then, the university has seen total enrollment numbers of 20,456 and 20,178 during the past two years — a difference of 946 students from 2012 to 2014.

“We’re getting less from a student fee number than we got back in 2011,” Stewart said. “So that’s the challenge. The cost of doing business goes up. If any of your revenue pieces goes down, it makes it that much more challenging.”