Fans of Arkansas State University’s athletic teams are especially excited about the upcoming football season, which will start Sept. 1 with a nationally televised game against PAC-12 powerhouse Oregon. The excitement stems mostly from the unexpected hiring in January of head coach Gus Malzahn, who as offensive coordinator at Auburn in 2010 played a key role in winning a national championship.
That came on the heels of a 10-2 season and a bowl invitation for ASU under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze, who then was quickly hired away by his alma mater, Mississippi, before the postseason game.
Bitter disappointment quickly turned to exhilaration, though, with the Malzahn hiring, and that carried through the new staff’s recruiting successes. Chairback seats for the 6-game home schedule are almost all gone.
ASU supporters believe they’re finally on the verge of breaking into the bigtime of intercollegiate athletics. The question now is how to pay for it.
Malzahn’s compensation package has been reported at more than $900,000 annually, a huge upgrade from the $200,000 paid to Freeze, among the lowest of all major-college head coaches. Boosters will supposedly provide most of the extra funding above the $156,000 state base pay.
He also hired a more expensive staff and pledged to recruit nationally for the best players, then promptly started doing just that.
At a recent meeting of the ASU Touchdown Club, a fundraising adjunct of the Red Wolf Club, Malzahn spoke briefly of the need for money to pay for airplane trips around the country to visit prospective players.
ASU is calling on fans and students to pay the extra costs of "taking the program to the next level," as Malzahn has promised.
Ticket prices are up a little, and the levels have been raised for Red Wolf Club members. The university’s Board of Trustees raised the student athletic fee from $15 to $17 per credit hour, matching the University of Central Arkansas for the highest of Arkansas’ 4-year universities.
The Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board will be asked on Friday to certify athletic budgets for the state universities, and there is usually no controversy. Mainly the board tries to make certain all are following a state law which limits the amount a university can transfer from general operating funds to athletic budgets.
The limit this year is just under $1.2 million, and ASU is one of four institutions that will take the maximum. The others are Arkansas Tech, Henderson State and Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.
The University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, one of only a few NCAA Division I football schools to cover all athletic expenses, takes in considerably more revenue than all the other Arkansas universities combined — an expected $75.6 million, according to the Department of Higher Education report that will be presented Friday. UAF does not have a student athletic fee and transfers no general revenue to athletics.
ASU’s total budget for 2012-13 shows total revenue expected at about $13.38 million and the same amount in expenditures. That’s an increase of about $1.26 million, almost all of which will be provided by the student athletic fee hike.
The latter will go up to $4.96 million, furnishing 37 percent of what will be needed to run the athletic program, the largest share.
Athletic-generated revenues are actually expected to drop by about $130,000, covering 36 percent of all athletic revenues. By contrast, UA-Fayetteville will take in nearly $65 million in athletic-generated revenue. The rest comes from "other athletic income," which includes booster contributions.
ASU’s projected other income will increase slightly at just over $1 million, according to the ADHE report. The university also uses almost $1.4 million from auxiliary profits (concessions, athletic apparel, etc.) to fund its athletic program — about 10 percent of all expenses.
A-State officials have cited Boise State’s success in moving its football program to national recognition as a model of what they’d like to have. However, Boise State athletic budget for 2011-12 was about $32.1 million, only 10 percent of which came from student fees, according to a report by idahostateman.com.
Boise State has reached the level that athletic and booster revenues cover more of its total athletic costs, but it also receives a much larger subsidy from state and non-institutional revenues than ASU — about $7 million total. That also means it’s a long way from breaking even.
By the way, the NCAA reports that Oregon’s athletic budget this year will be about $85.8 million, all but $2.4 million of which will come from non-athletic revenue.
UCA is also trying to raise the level of its football program and joins ASU with a $17-per-credit-hour student athletic fee. Its budget shows just over $5 million from those fees, slightly more than ASU anticipates. That represents 54.5 percent of UCA’s total athletic budget, which is about $9.2 million, the third largest in the state.
Bigtime college athletics is expensive. Moving to the next level for schools like ASU and UCA will mean raising more money from ticket sales and private support from boosters. Winning brings prestige, but it must also bring financial stability.
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.