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Coach and Athletic Director

Northern Iowa Athletics Expecting Financial Hit, Not Cutting Sports

Des Moines Register, Marc Hansen


As expected, the University of Northern Iowa announced the latest round of budget cuts today, and Panther athletic teams will feel the effects.

Though no sports will be cut or de-emphasized, unlike 2009 when baseball was eliminated, athletic director Troy Dannen said today he is charged with the task of slicing $500,000 in general education fund money from his budget over the next three years.

When Dannen was hired in 2008, the athletic department received $5.5 million from the general fund. With this cut, the allocation dips to $3.8 million.

The goal, Dannen said Thursday, will be to fund-raise most of it back. In 2010, the Iowa Board of Regents put a 2.4 percent cap on how much UNI athletics can take from the general fund. With $162 million in the fund, Dannen said, Northern Iowa is now at 2.7 percent and moving closer to the goal.

Becoming completely financially self-sufficient, he added, is impossible for an athletic department at a school like Northern Iowa. That’s because, unlike Iowa and Iowa State and other Football Bowl Subdivision schools, UNI athletics receives no television money from football.

“The TV money they receive,” Dannen said, “is more than our budget.”

“The current funding model at UNI is not sustainable,” he said. “If we want to be alive in 10 years, let alone competitive, we have to trend more toward a student fee model. That’s how schools like Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Indiana State fund their programs.”

It’s a controversial model.

“It’s a very dicey direction to go with the growing tuition burden and debt load already on the students,” Dannen said. “That’s different from 10 years ago. When schools went to this type of model, the tuition levels were more palatable.”

And yet, he said, the changes and cuts can be made without diminishing the level of achievement the Panthers have enjoyed over the past several years.

“This time, much of the pain is going to be internal. We might have to hold off on new uniforms and equipment. We might have to eliminate some positions, though not coaching in year one.”

Dannen said he believes the Division I basketball program will remain competitive on the mid-major level while the football team should continue to excel in the Football Championship Subdivision, directly below the top collegiate rung.

“We’ve stripped everything down to the point where the only thing we have left to touch are scholarships,” Dannen said, “and that’s the lifeblood of the department.
“Nothing that’s happening is going to affect the ability to compete or graduate our athletes. It might be a little tougher or more uncomfortable internally. But as we cut the general fund money, we have to be careful we don’t diminish our ability to generate other revenues to sustain the program as a whole. I can’t cut a dollar from football if it’s going to prevent me from generating two dollars.”

Despite the cuts, Dannen said, the athletic department was in far worse shape four years ago when it was running a half million dollar deficit. The reserves had been drained. There was no money in the bank.

Dannen also said his department will return $2.5 million in tuition and fees to the university.

Some of the financial pain will be alleviated by the two football games UNI plays with FBS teams Wisconsin and Iowa.

The UNI football team will receive $450,000 to play in Madison on Sept. 1 and another $500,000 to play in Iowa City two weeks later.

Dannen said the athletic department is also in the middle of a money-raising campaign. Though the initial goal was $15 million, he said, $26 million has now been raised.

He also said the athletic department generates income on concerts and other events, such as the recent Jason Aldean concert, which will bring in $200,000 that can be spent on the UNI-Dome and other sports facilities without taxing athletic department finances.

It hasn’t been the best week for the Panthers, who also find themselves with a hole in their football schedule.

A few days ago, Savannah State pulled out of its game at the UNI-Dome after signing an agreement to play Florida State instead in the second week of the season.

Florida State will pay Savannah State $475,000 -- or $325,000 more than Northern Iowa guaranteed. Dannen said Savannah State must pay UNI a $200,000 exit fee.

Now the problem becomes filling the vacancy in a schedule with only four home games and a home opener five weeks into the season.

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