With some major financial belt tightening at the University of Montana this Thanksgiving, officials within the UM athletic department know the institution's budget crunch extends to them too.
"We certainly won't be immune; we haven't been immune from cuts the last three years," Montana Athletic Director Kent Haslam said this week. "Exactly what it will be we're not quite sure yet, but we know we will lose some general fund distribution for FTE (full-time equivalency) personnel."
Athletics was among the many departments mentioned during UM president Royce Engstrom's address on budget woes last Tuesday. Because of declining enrollment, Engstrom said the university plans to cut 201 full-time positions across campus to meet budget challenges in the 2016 and '17 fiscal years.
The university has suffered a drop in enrollment in each of the past four years, currently down another 6.5 percent from last fall, since setting a record with 13,917 full-time students in 2011. The plan for 2017 estimates enrollment at 10,915.
That puts considerable strain everywhere from staffing classrooms to athletic events.
"We'll be strategic in what we do," said Haslam, who said his first goal will be to find alternate ways to cover funding for potential lost positions. "We can't just cut areas that are our biggest profit centers. We have to be prudent when it comes to that."
Grizzly athletics provides a different model than many departments on campus in that it generates much of its own revenue.
Athletics does accept more than 6 million in institutional support, Haslam said, but fiscal year 2014 data obtained by USA Today shows UM brings in more than two times that in ticket sales, licensing fees, contributions and student fees.
School-appropriated funds were about 7.1 million in 2014 with total revenue at 20.6 million.
"I get that during budget times, athletics is the first thing for people to go to and say, 'Boy, cut them first,'" said Haslam, now in his fourth year serving as Montana's AD. "We've endured cuts every year for the last two or three years. We're part of campus, we're a campus partner, but I would obviously advocate that we're a great financial partner to campus too.
Just short of half of what athletics receives from the university goes to scholarships for student-athletes, the rest covering salaries and benefits. Between out-of-state and in-state scholarships -- the difference of which is $15,988 vs. $32,878 based on 2015-16 school year data -- the department accepts about $2.8 million in institutional aid, Haslam said.
But that covers just 178.1 athletic scholarships this year. Montana features more than 320 student-athletes across 15 NCAA recognized sports, each of whom must be a full-time student to remain eligible to compete.
That's a good deal of generated revenue for Montana, as is the $5.6 million in ticket sales for athletic events, most of which the department puts toward operations, Haslam said. Operating costs are all self-generated.
But expenses certainly aren't decreasing and as budget woes continue to grow, Montana must find alternate avenues to fill the holes. How wide those gaps may be, Halsam does not yet know though.
"Our first goal is always going to be to generate more revenue (rather than cut expenses)," Haslam said. "That's the key. Let's sell more tickets, let's sell more sponsorships."