By | Andrew George Butler and Keaundrey Clark
Humboldt State University’s athletics department will face a budget deficit as the fiscal year comes to a close on June 30, 2017 for the second consecutive year. The athletic department is expected to come up $669,000 short, once again requiring HSU to divert $500,000 from its general fund to help curtail the deficit.
HSU students spend $4.3 million a year on athletics, resulting in the highest Instructionally Related Activities fee of any CSU, at $674 a year for full-time students. The next highest IRA fee at a CSU is $460 a year, at Sonoma State. 77 percent or $518 of HSU’s IRA fee goes towards athletics. In 2015, HSU students paid $4,221,825 toward athletics. The median of all other CCAA schools in the same year was $2,181,874, and a median of $16,737 for all of Division II.
It’s important to note, in respect to athletics, that along with an abnormally high student fee, athletics also generates far above the median when it comes to advertisements and donations. Athletics raised $345,775 in royalties, licensing, advertising and sponsorships in 2015. The CCAA median was $34,775 and the Division II median was $15,045. HSU also raised in-kind donations, such as goods and services, of $246,280 compared to $13,189 for other CCAA schools.
In November 2016, HSU President Lisa Rossbacher contracted Strategic Edge Consulting LLC to conduct a review of HSU’s various intercollegiate athletics programs and the athletic department as a whole. The 100-page report viewed the athletic deficit holisticly and highlighted areas HSU’s administration could improve.
The report reads, “It also became clear that there appears to be a “divide” between athletics and other parts of campus…One of the things that became obvious through the sessions with the Advancement Foundation Board, Athletics Department staff, the Philanthropy staff and others on campus was that the Athletics Department and the Advancement Office do not communicate well and have not historically worked with each other.”
Frank Whitlatch, associate vice president of Marketing and Communications at HSU, in partnership said that the athletic deficit issue isn’t due to an indifference to teamwork between departments. “HSU is essentially a very large organization,” Whitlatch said. “It’s easy for individuals in various departments to put their heads down and work at solving an issue to the point that communication suffers.”
President Rossbacher responded indirectly, through a mediary, to a couple of questions from The Lumberjack that were related to the Strategic Edge report.
“I requested that Athletics and Advancement meet regularly for the next six months, with very specific outcomes required. The first meeting has taken place and work is ongoing to improve coordination in the areas of fundraising and communication.”
When Rossbacher was asked if HSU athletics are “too big to fail,” she said, “General funds have already been used to offset the deficit in Athletics. We have to consider every option to ensure that all HSU programs are financially sustainable.”
The 2016-2017 year also saw a 3.5 percent reduction in enrollment at HSU. Additionally, HSU expects to see another dip in enrollment for the 2017-2018 year. On whether or not a public deficit issue might dissuade potential students from enrolling at HSU, Whitlatch said, “I don’t believe that a visible deficit will affect potential enrollment, the reality is most CSU’s have some level of a deficit issue.”
Strategic Edge suggested a few options for HSU athletics. Among these were HSU remaining a member of the NCAA and changing divisional affiliation to NCAA Division III, remaining a member of NCAA Division II and moving to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference for all sports, or transferring to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics .
In a memo sent in March to all administrators and coaches affiliated with Athletics, President Rossbacher indicated that HSU intends to remain within Division II and make no changes to its divisional affiliation.
In the memo, Rossbacher left potential cuts to athletic programs on the table. Sports such as baseball, women’s swimming, and wrestling have been cut in the past. Former and current HSU athletes are making their voices known with the potential upheaval of HSU Athletics.
“It makes me feel uncomfortable for the student athletes that are currently there and it saddens me every time I hear, ‘they might cut this,’ ‘the school is getting rid of this,’ ‘there isn’t enough money to do this,’” said former HSU soccer player Emily Huska. “It happened all throughout my four years of being a student athlete.”
HSU soccer player McCalla Madriago is also concerned about potential cuts.
“Honestly, it would hurt HSU and the community because HSU athletics are the closest thing to having live sporting events anywhere in Humboldt county,” said Madriago. “We’re isolated and sports bring the community together or makes it excited and a topic to be shared. Not only that, HSU athletes are a huge influence on the younger generations around here.”
In November 2017, HSU will review the deficit issue both within athletics and HSU in general. Any potential cuts, revenue hikes, or other changes will be left to speculation until then.