In 2019, the University of Connecticut athletics budget deficit grew to $42.3 million, one of the highest in the country.
A 2017 University Budget Committee report about the athletics budget deficit indicated that the athletics deficit was untenable, and it has only grown since.
“Between 2005 and 2017, expenditures for the AD grew 70% from $47 million to $80 million,” read the report. “The exponential growth in the subsidy to the AD has far outpaced other components of the budget over the same time period.”
The operating expenses for the UConn athletics department totaled $79,070,708 in the 2019 fiscal year, and are expected to rise to $80,110,344 in the 2020 fiscal year, as reported in a November 2019 University Senate meeting.
When asked if this number was larger than it has been in the past, Hartford Courant Sports Reporter Alex Putterman told The Daily Campus that that was certainly the case.
“This has ballooned in the past few years, and is one of the higher deficits in the country,” Putterman said. “That budgetary committee said that the number that it was at a couple years ago was, quote, unsustainable, and the number has only risen since then.”
The number that Putterman said the budgetary committee had noted as a concern was the amount that UConn was providing as a subsidy to the athletics department, which grew to almost $36 million in the 2019 fiscal year, not including student fees toward the athletics department.
“In sum, after evaluating the fiscal situation at UConn and the State of Connecticut, and comparing expenditures by the AD [athletics department] in relation to its peers and those in Power Five conferences, the SUBC deems that the current subsidy to UConn’s AD is unsustainable,” read the 2017 University Budget Committee report.
In an article about the deficit for the Hartford Courant, Putterman explained that though the deficit has greatly increased, it is offset by that subsidy.
“UConn’s deficit, which is offset each year by student fees and a university subsidy, has become one of the largest in college sports, rising from about $15 million in 2011 to more than $40 million in 2018,” read the article.
This means that out of the 230 schools included in USA Today 2018 NCAA athletics department revenue database, UConn had the third-largest institutional subsidy, including student fees. UConn is looking to reduce that subsidy in the next few years.
“The bottom-line figure is not a comprehensive illustration of the many ways in which UConn Athletics continues to work toward greater financial self-sufficiency over time,” the university said in a statement. “Reducing the athletic subsidy to a level that is in line with our peers remains our long-term goal, and one that helps shape our decision-making process every day.”
The growth in the deficit has a number of factors, many of which are linked to UConn’s membership in the American Athletic Conference, or AAC.
“I think it all starts with the conference,” Putterman said. “When the Big East became the AAC, that put a real big dent in the budget because TV revenue was a lot bigger in the Big East.”
Recruiting, travel and game expenses totaled almost $16 million in the 2019 fiscal year, according to the budget presentation given in the November 2019 University Senate meeting. In theory, these costs will be reduced with the move to the Big East Conference.
Some problems won’t be immediately solved by the move to the Big East, though. In fact, the move precipitates some short term costs, such as the $17 million fee to leave the AAC and the $3.5 million to enter the Big East.
Another concern is ticket sales, which have been dropping nationwide. The Senate Meeting budget presentation showed that ticket revenue dropped from $9.1 million in fiscal year 2018 to $7.5 million in fiscal year 2019.
Additionally, UConn’s coaching turnover has been a problem for the budget. UConn football, which generated $16.6 million in reported expenses to $3.3 million in revenue, is on its fourth coach of the decade. The factor to be considered here is severance packages, which can total several million dollars.
Another example of this is the dismissal of former UConn Men’s Basketball coach Kevin Ollie, with whom the university is currently in arbitration over $10 million Ollie believes was left on his contract.
Despite these costs, there were some hopeful points in the athletics department budget for fiscal year 2019. Operating costs were reduced by approximately a million dollars, and donations increased as well.
“Athletics-related donations increased 42 percent between FY18 and FY19 (from $10.4 million to $14.4 million), illustrating the value that the larger community places on sponsoring a strong and successful athletics program,” read the statement from the university. “While FY 20 projections point to athletics requiring a similar amount of University support, we project that athletics revenue will increase and we will be in a much improved situation financially in FY 21.”
Grace McFadden is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.