AP Business Summary for the week of Nov. 6

College athletic programs are reacting to rising inflation the same way as everyone else — they’re looking for ways big and small to save money.

In the Power Five, home to the biggest college sports budgets and most resources, schools are working with boosters and other partners to try to bridge the financial gap. Working on the line to smaller institutions, where budgets and resources are smaller, creativity is required.

For schools of all sizes, travel and food are the most challenging issues.

Nebraska, which has 24 sports programs and an athletic budget of $168 million this year, hopes to work with its meat and poultry suppliers to find more efficient ways to order the food for the training table. It also lined up several nonprofit groups to work on concessions to reduce labor costs.

The school expects the cost of doing business to be $3 million more if the U.S. inflation rate had not risen above 8%.

Arizona, with a $101.6 million budget and 21 games, project costs could increase by $4 million, according to Derek van der Merwe, an assistant vice president and chief operating officer for the administration. and school athletics in the Pac-12.

“You have to work closely with all of your teams to figure out what changes you can make to absorb that cost within your operating budgets, or you have to look at other opportunities to increase revenues to offset costs,” van der Merwe said. “The post-pandemic economy and uncertainty are in the huge budgets we have to manage and make it challenging because we don’t know what to expect.”

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Those Power Five schools, however, have deep-pocketed boosters they can always count on in times of need, an insurance policy for budget concerns.

At Mary Baldwin University, a private school with about 1,000 undergraduate students in Staunton, Virginia, the story is very different. The school competes in Division III of the USA South Athletic Conference, and most of its members are in North Carolina, anywhere from 3½ to 6 hours away.

Apart from travel costs, there are overnight stays and food costs.

The Fighting Squirrels do not field a football team, having only begun admitting boys in 2017, but added baseball and men’s basketball last year. New programs such as the athletic budget, cut by 20% during the pandemic, have been restored to the previous level before the additions, athletic director Tom Byrnes said.

“So we’re doing things here in a little bit of a line,” he told The Associated Press. “And we got it done, you know, as best we could. But inflation didn’t help us.”

The school relies on creativity and some local generosity.

Men’s basketball, 8-13 in its inaugural season, will play exhibitions against two Division I programs, rather than a couple of scrimmages that could be more conducive to player development, hoping to bring a $3,000-$4,000 for each to pay for the team’s basketball shoes.

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“The baseball, softball and women’s basketball teams all work concession stands or as ushers at James Madison football games,” said Byrnes, who travels on a bus provided by a local value company. The school also has a deal with a used car dealer to provide it with a car for coaches to use on recruiting trips for free, and there are local restaurants that sometimes provide discounted food.

“So that’s the kind of thing we have to do. We also do nickel and dime items. The girls’ soccer team has a Kona ice truck at the games, so things are like that,” Byrnes said.

Although there is no need to resort to such measures, the largest schools are not immune to belt-tightening if possible. Coaches’ requests for equipment are scrutinized, and they are sometimes asked to hand over something in return.

But they all still have to travel, and eat.

Nebraska expects to spend $9.2 million on athletic department travel this year, executive associate athletic director and CFO Doug Ewald said. That’s a 17% increase, or $1.3 million. Arizona, on the other hand, expects the cost of athlete travel to increase by 20%-25% last year, van der Merwe said.

Foresight has helped Iowa State avoid some of those increases, senior associate athletic director Chris Jorgensen said, by locking in charter flight costs months or even years in advance, while rival Iowa football travel will increase.

Nebraska’s training table will see food costs increase about 20% this year, from $3.2 million to $3.8 million. Nebraska athletes consume 2,200 pounds of meat per month, and Ewald said the athletic department hopes to work with vendors to find ways to get better deals for buying more.

Arizona, like Nebraska, is trying to absorb increased costs due to inflation by tightening belts. One thing is not negotiable, van der Merwe said.

“Our philosophy is that we’re going to make sure that the student-athlete experience is the priority in everything we budget and plan,” he said, “and everything around that is constrained to make sure we maintain the integrity of that priority. “

The philosophy is similar to Randolph-Macon College, another Division III school in Virginia. Athletic director Jeff Burns credits the school’s athletic success for allowing it to dip into reserves to maintain that standard.

“There’s a spectrum all over Division III. You’re going to see a lot of different ways in which the wealthy can handle it and the underdogs will be forced to make some changes,” Burns said.

After more than three decades in the sport, this is not how Mary Baldwin’s Byrnes envisioned things. He took the job six months before the pandemic began.

“It’s challenging,” he said. “But you know what? It keeps every day interesting.”


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