Private, corporate money could cover DI, officials say

Justin R. Lessman

Justin R. Lessman

SDSU officials pushing for the jump from Division II athletic competition to Division I have thus far touted big crowds, national exposure, high-quality competition and more prestige as reasons for the move being essential.

However, if the move is made, SDSU athletes, students and fans will face, among other repercussions, a required four-year absence from DI post-season play, an 8-year eligibility wait for a chance at the “March Madness” men’s basketball tournament, and a significant hike in scholarship dollars.

Not to mention the prospect of scrounging up a cool $2 million to meet projected athletic budget requirements.

SDSU’s existing revenues have the athletic budget sitting at just more than $4.1 million.

And, while a typical budget in D-I-AA is around $4.75 million, – not an insurmountable step up for SDSU – the average budget in the nearest D-I-AA league, Big Sky, sits at more than $6.2 million.

That’s a $2.1 million budget increase.

The University of South Dakota, another D-II school previously looking at making the move, has an athletic budget of around $3.2 million. However, earlier this fall, Athletic Director Kelly Higgins announced that the Coyotes found a move to DI to be “not feasible.”

Despite the postulated difficulty in finding an additional couple million dollars for the required budget upgrade, a recent market analysis done by Conventions, Sports & Leisure, Inc. of Minneapolis, Minn., indicated that, with a move to DI-AA, annual revenues could increase to between $4.7 million and $5.9 million.

An appealing thought.

But where is that initial, get-the-ball-rolling $2 million going to come from?

Dana Dykhouse, SDSU Foundation chairman, said he expected the increased budget dollars to come primarily from two sources: private funding and corporate sponsorships.

“The opportunity for an increase in corporate sponsorships would definitely increase,” Dykhouse said. “Information that I have received indicates that SDSU could expand its sponsorship area to a 75-mile radius. That would include the Sioux Falls metropolitan area and would unlock numerous interested corporations.”

As for private funding being available when needed, Dykhouse cites the fact that many of the facility improvements made on campus in the last decade to 25 years have been financed through private donors.

“The new Performing Arts Center, the engineering hall addition and now Solberg; these are funded by private donors and, in many cases, the city of Brookings,” he said. “When we have wanted to improve facilities, the dollars have been there.”

As far as facility improvement requirements, Athletic Director Fred Oien said only two concerns need to be addressed immediately.

“The two we would need to look at right away are a football locker room upgrade and further expansion of the HPER wellness center,” he said.

Oien said the locker rooms were designed for 60, and now well over 100 football personnel use them. The upgraded locker rooms will have more room and space for medical and training areas.

In the future, Oien said the university would have to take seriously the prospect of a wellness center as a stand-alone facility, improved concession facilities and landscaping at Coughlin-Alumni, relocation issues with the track, reconstruction of the baseball field, and practice facilities for soccer and softball.

“Regardless of whether or not we move to Division I, these improvements will be done,” said Oien.

Donations and sponsorships, coupled with event concession sales and interest earnings on endowments, account for about 25 percent of SDSU’s athletic budget.

Approximately 13 percent comes from ticket revenue, and 34 percent stems from state support in the form of salary dollars to coaches who also teach, plus tuition.

The remaining 27 percent or so is generated by student fees.

Currently, SDSU’s per-credit student fee is the lowest among the six state universities.

While many expected that to change with a switch to DI, Oien said it would not.

“We will not ask for or use additional student fee money in the immediate future,” he said. “With a move, we would still, for a while, be Division II. We shouldn’t be asking for fees when other important student programs exist that they could go to. Now, I’m not saying forever. In the future, we will have to evaluate the need for that source.”

Oien said this despite a survey conducted last year that showed students would generally not oppose a fee increase.

This surprised both Oien and SA President Dan Hansen.

The survey asked students if they would be willing to see a fee increase of $25 up to $100. A convincing 82 percent surveyed said they would support the $25 increase, while a still strong 64 percent said they would give up the $100 for DI sports.

“That decrease as you went up is expected,” Hansen said. “But the numbers were still shockingly high and that’s the substantial part of it.”

An increased number of athletic scholarships would also add to the bill.

Currently, SDSU gives the equivalent of 96.5 full athletic scholarships that total around $820,000. Oien said the number of scholarships is created mainly by combinations of fractions of scholarships.

A move to DI could increase the number of scholarships offered by at least 70 more across all sports, men and women.

Oien said this increase will required an additional $600,000.

“This (scholarship) money will primarily come from donated dollars or planned giving,” Oien said.

Other, less touted costs could also add up.

Throw significant travel costs and staff additions in some sports into the mix, and the bill just keeps getting steeper.

With the prospect of a move very real, Dykhouse said the Foundation is ready to help out however it can.

“The Foundation will support the school whatever decision it makes,” he said. “We believe that the benefit to the university is well beyond athletics. It’s the prestige of the university and we stand ready to support a decision.”

Oien said he believes that SDSU’s move to DI is essential and, if approved, will be done most effectively in a gradual manner.

“There will be a transition time,” he said. “We will not be at the levels of other schools right away. However, we will try to catch up as quickly as we can to other schools in our conference. Patience is the key and timing is of the essence.”