This is the full text of the Jim O'Day's e-mail
I understand your concerns – you are not alone. This is, perhaps, the most critical decision to ever face the intercollegiate athletic program at The University of Montana.
With state funding flat and student athletic fees holding tight, and with expenses growing year-by-year at a steady pace (at least $250,000 per year alone in just scholarship costs and related room/board costs for out student-athletes), we find ourselves at a cross roads. With revenues presently capped at about $13 million per year, we are having to find ways to cut expenses… and one option may have to be scholarships to out-of-state student athletes if we cannot find new revenue sources. We realize this could hurt our competitiveness as we cannot just take out of certain non-revenue generating sports because of Title IX issues. In addition, our insurance continues to rise, as does rent and travel. We can assume our expenses will jump at least $500,000 annually… and really no new revenue to meet these increases. We have continued to cut our expenses about $250,000 or more per year for the past three years…. But now we are down to the bare bone. Any further cuts will affect programs. You can see that already – our entire budget for recruiting for all 14 sports is $178,000; at Montana State it’s $408,000 per the recently released NCAA audit numbers.
Currently, we charge the highest prices at the Football Championship Subdivision level for football tickets. How much more can we ask of our fans to try and keep us competitive (there are no guarantees). We generate about $4.2 million in football tickets right now … Twice the $2.1 million brought in by Appalachian State at No. 2 amongst FCS schools. By comparison, Montana State brings in about $1.2 million per year – Washington State at $3.8 million – and Idaho at $900,000. To stay with us, MSU is making up the difference with institutional support and student athletic fees (MSU is at $144/student/year; UM is $72/student/year; the UM and MSU athletic budgets are almost identical – yet the expense lines vary because of our private funding successes). Student-athletic fees vary across the country. At James Madison, they are $1,400 per student per year. Old Dominion and Appalachian State are about $700 per student/year; while the average in the Big Sky Conference is $200/student/year. Note: Northern Arizona does not yet pay a student-athletic fee. Instead, they get the same state appropriation as Arizona and Arizona State – or about $8 million per year. On the other end of the spectrum, Sac State receives little institutional support, yet the student-athletic fee is about $265/student/year – and generates almost $9 million for the athletics department.
Here’s an estimated breakdown of how we produce our revenues …
Football tickets $4,200,000 (MSU – $1.2 million)
Institutional support $4,500,000 (MSU – $6.7 million)
Grizzly Scholarship Association $1,500,000 (MSU – $1 million)
Student Fees $1,000,000 (MSU – $1.8 million)
Corporate/Grizzly Sports Prop. $ 650,000 (MSU – $350,00)
Men’s basketball $ 400,000 (MSU – $200,000)
Women’s basketball $ 350,000 (MSU – $50,000)
Game guarantees $ 150,000 (MSU – $800,000)
NCAA monies $ 300,000 (MSU – $300,000)
Big Sky Conference $ 125,000 (MSU – $125,000)
Television $ 75,000 (MSU – $65,000)
CLC $ 20,000 (MSU – $160,000)
Now we face the ever-mounting challenge of how to produce more revenue?
At the same time, we also have Title IX issues that Montana State does not have. UM has a 54% female population; Montana State is 54% male. We have a 40% female to male student-athlete ratio (we need to be at 54% or close – or spend 54% of our funding on female sports – neither of which is possible with football. Montana State is just the opposite as it needs a ratio of about 54% male, or 54% spending on male sports… thus, not an issue to them). We are struggling with the third and final prong for Title IX compliance, which is currently under heavier scrutiny based on recent Obama Administration interpretation. We will most likely need to add two female sports shortly or face possibly penalty. Those penalties do not affect the athletic programs – but schools in general as their federal funds/grants/research dollars can be impacted – or about $150 million annually at UM that could be at risk. Thus, somehow, we need to find about $2 million more per year (not counting facilities) to run two new programs. Thus, we most likely will need higher student fees to meet these Title IX and related expenses. Doubt it any of this money would help any other concerns (maintaining football funding, facility improvements, etc.). Also, additional institutional support is out of the question…. It is so tight right now.
Looking at our present revenue structure, one way to increase funding is to consider a move to the Football Bowl Subdivision (NCAA revenues, game guarantees, television, conference dollars and corporate dollars are significantly higher. For example, Idaho receives almost $2.5 million in league revenues, and another $500,000 in television revenues) – but this is not a “for sure” situation either. Instead, it might be considered a gamble – maybe not necessarily a risk. Could we lose fans in the stands? Absolutely. Could we right now if we went 6-5 or less? Absolutely. Would fans continue to come if we charge high prices for Western States of Colorado, or maybe even Montana Tech? Who knows. Will they come if our schedule consists of Idaho, Utah State, Hawaii, San Jose State… and non-conference games against schools such as Boise State, Nevada, Wyoming and Washington State? Possibly. Note: Wyoming is hosting Nebraska next year. In exchange, they will travel to Nebraska in 2012 and 2013. In 2013, Nebraska will pay Wyoming $1 million for making the trip. Last year, Wyoming hosted Texas as part of a home-and-home contract. Those are not available to us now. In fact, WAC or Mountain West schools are no longer allowed to play at FCS schools via by-law changes. They also are recommending they don’t play ANY FCS school – home or away. That begs the question: Who do Montana fans want to see in the next 2-10 years in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. At the FCS level, there are fewer and fewer out there who will come here.
Couple other things to realize:
– Both the Big Sky Conference and the WAC NEED Montana. Where ever we end, that conference will most likely survive at a higher level. The commissioners of both conferences know that, as do the schools (although some at the Big Sky level would hate to admit it).
– Montana is THE school west of the Mississippi in the FCS – and the only one since Boise in 1994 to make the championship game (which the Broncos lost). The Big Sky losing Montana would be devastating to some as they need the traveling Montana fans to attend their contests, and purchase tickets. We are also responsible for the television dollars associated with each of the league schools. For example, KPAX/MTN bid $100,000 to television the Griz-Cat game, the next highest bidder was Max Media at $20,000. Our other games were bid at $10,000 each by KPAX; Max Media pays $2,500 to do Bobcat telecasts. Thus, Max Media is spending more money in production equipment; while the schools are getting the cash from KPAX. By league policy, 60% of the revenue from these telecasts go to the HOME team (not UM), 35% to the visitor and 5% to the league. So how out-of-line is this: Last year, MSU received $60,000 of KPAX’s bid (to do UM games), while Montana received $35,000 and the conference $5,000. These are the reasons why Boise State left the Big Sky in the mid-1990s; why BYU and Texas are doing what they’re doing right now. They want to control their television money. The television money should be following UM, but we get outvoted on this 8-1 whenever it comes up.
– Football at UM breaks even. We generate $6.5 in revenues; and the expenses associated with football at $6.5. Thus, others are probably losing $3-$4.5 million annually. How long can that continue at some schools?
– We are struggling to find opponents to play in Missoula…. Cost is high, plus we win 93% of our games here. People do not like to come here. Even Division II schools are asking “guarantees” in excess of $125,000 to come here. That cuts drastically into our revenues.
– We are NOT guaranteed home playoff games. We have been extremely fortunate in the past. To put in perspective, we made about $100,000 for the three home playoff games last year – and sent another $1.1 million to the NCAA. A regular season home game nets between $400,000 and $1 million (Montana State, App State, etc.). Being in the WAC, we are allowed 12 games instead of 11 – and 13 when you play at Hawaii. So instead of $100,000 at max, we would be seeing additional dollars… at a minimum of $300,000.
– The FCS playoff system is hurting financially. We produced $1.1 million of last year’s budget of $2.5 million. The other 11 games produced less than $1 million TOTAL. The NCAA lost almost $500,000 again, and it will not continue to tolerate to follow this plan. Now we’ve added another round and four more teams…. Being on the committee, and as chair, I know this is a major concern to the NCAA – and a last-gasp reason for changing to Frisco, Texas, in hopes of attracting more attention and support. It won’t help to move the championship back three weeks into January – let alone that it will be taking place 40 minutes away from the Cotton Bowl, which has also been moved to that night. So much for FCS exposure on national television. Just to keep the student-athletes on campus during Christmas will also cost the two schools in the championship an additional $100,000 – none of which is budgeted. And to put in perspective, we LOST $150,000 each of the past two year going to the championship game. Had we won, the incentives for coaches would have put the losses over $200,000 each time. We get no additional revenue for any of this.
– AND OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE: We are NOT considering the health and welfare of the student-athletes, who are having to spend at least one month of playing 4-5 more games – which is permanently damaging their bodies – and hurting their academics. This is not fair to them – nor their coaches. This is where all of us are selfish, and want the playoff system vs. a bowl. At the FBS level, there is a month off to recover bodies, take care of academics and finals, and at the end, a reward of a bowl and some fun – and the schools don’t lose money like we do at the FCS level.
History will determine if the decision by the new President (Royce Engstrom) to either remain where we are, or take a new direction, was correct. There are no easy answers. Heck, had we gone to the WAC a few years ago, we’d probably be in a much more lucrative Mountain West Conference right now with schools we consider on academic par – Wyoming, Colorado State, etc. Who knows what will happen. I would venture to say there are only about four conferences right now who appear to be solid and control their own destiny – the SEC, the Big 10, the Big 12 (unless Texas and Oklahoma do an “about face” in the next few years) and the Pac 12 Even the ACC and the Big East have issues, let alone those like Conference USA. The Mountain West is starting to look more like the old WAC (especially if TCU bolts, which is likely). Could that mean a merger of the Mountain West and WAC down the road…. Again. This could be a distinct possibility. That being said, where does that leave the Big Sky? Should the FCS fail – which is another possibility, especially with Appalachian State, James Madison, Villanova, Delaware, Georgia Southern, Richmond and others being considered for moves into other conference alliances within FBS conferences – would we be all alone? How many schools in the Big Sky would still be offering football, or would we become a basketball conference? Would it even be Division I, or would we be forced out to Division II? If you don’t have an invitation from a Division I conference, you may have no choice. This may be the only opportunity UM gets to be “invited” to a true Division I conference.
As you can see, there are no easy answers – and it is very, very complicated. These points and many others will be presented – and have been closely reviewed and monitored by our national consultants – who do these independent studies for schools for a living. Other responsible schools are doing the same, as are conferences. They give you the most accurate, up-to-date information available.
Finally, I will end this long message with an interesting observation by the consultants.
In asking faculty and deans who are their “peers,” they mentioned schools such as Idaho, Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado and Colorado State. The consultants asked why no Big Sky schools – with the exception of Montana State for “tied in” reasons,” the faculty responded they do not see the Idaho States, Eastern Washingtons, Northern Colorados, etc., as “peer academic institutions.” Au contraire, the consultants’ studies show: “You are who you hang out with.” This is true across the board in life – and here as well. Thus, this is extremely important to consider as well as we move forward.
Right now, we have a heavy saturation of Montana students attending UM (1,500 more Montana residents now attend UM than MSU – hard to believe … a complete turn-around from 10-15 years ago). But, census reports show the numbers of Montana high school graduates spiraling downward rapidly. Each Montana student costs UM about $2,300… a loss-leader for us in the business world. Thus, they need higher tuition being paid by out-of-state students to make up the difference. That out-of-state market is becoming increasingly competitive… and national exposure from an athletic program can help open the door to those out-of-state students who might consider coming here. This, too, has to be considered in any decision making…. A vision for future enrollment.
I have a motto: “Don’t make decisions based on ego or emotion. Base them on fact and figures.” That will be no different here. Right now, our emotions are high… we want what we had… We like being at the top and play for championships bigger than the Big Sky Conference – but we have to define “at the top of what?” We have great regional/state-wide recognition, but not much nationally. Look at the direction Boise State is taking. The consultants believe Montana could be the next Boise State – not the next Idaho. Actually, Idaho may now be in a better financial situation than we do – and their college is growing nationally.
Today is a new day. It is NOT business as usual – particularly in the area of intercollegiate athletics at the NCAA Division I level… where budgets range from $8 million annually to Texas and Ohio State at $120 million.
I’m sure you see now why this will be such a difficult decision by President Engstrom – and one that will have to be made in the very near future. We will feed him all the latest information, but ultimately, it will be his decision –- and will have to be supported by the Board of Regents. Wish it were easier, but it isn’t. At least UM has options – others are only followers in all of these discussions. We’re in a good place… and that separates us both academically and athletically from the others.
Keep the faith … And GO GRIZ!!!!