Ohio cut four varsity programs; will Kent State?

Tyler McIntosh

Forget the fact that it’s almost impossible to walk around without seeing someone representing their favorite college with expensive hoodies, hats and jerseys. And forget that every game on TV seems to be played in front of sellout crowds.

Right now, money is tight when it comes to Division I athletics.

In fact, money is so tight that schools are being forced to cut entire programs just to break even. On Jan. 25, Ohio University announced that it would be cutting men’s indoor and outdoor track and field, women’s lacrosse and men’s swimming and diving.

Ohio is just following the footsteps of other Mid-American Conference schools. Three years ago, Bowling Green, Toledo and Marshall (now a member of Conference USA) all cut at least parts of their track and field programs.

However, it’s not just the Mid-Major schools that are dropping the ax. Schools such as Syracuse, West Virginia and Virginia Tech have also been forced to cut varsity programs in the past three years.

So, how is Kent State fairing when big-name colleges and even members of its own conference are taking drastic measures?

In the past two years, Kent State has reported varsity athletic profits of $489,665 (2005-2006) and $715,333 (2004-2005). In comparison, the average profit of all Mid-Major schools in 2004-2005 was $544,892. The highest was New Mexico’s $5,067,711 profit, while Arkansas State lost the most, with a $2,210,276 deficit.

“I would say gifts and ticket sales are up,” Kent State Director of Athletics Laing Kennedy said. “Our royalties of marketing our apparel locally is up. Our camp revenue is up. Our revenue indicators are all up. That has really helped us.”

When it comes to dividing up revenue between 18 varsity programs, Kent State lets each program feed off each other. Money coming in from a particular sport isn’t just put back into that sport; it goes into one fund that all varsity sports draw from.

According to the 2005-2006 EADA (Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act) report, no Kent State sport brought in more revenue than it spent. While the football program brought in a department-high $793,065, it also spent $3,463,473.

Kennedy, who has gone against the trend and added two sports (soccer and women’s golf) at Kent State, said outside donations and direct institutional support – $3,998,644 combined last year – are key components to the school’s ability to turn a profit.

“Our facility development program is all private gifts,” Kennedy said. “And we have tremendous support from our alumni and friends in terms of gift support.”

Kennedy also said it is important to avoid trying to one-up competing colleges.

“We pay our people a reasonable level of salary and we don’t get involved in the arms race, so to speak,” Kennedy said.

One has to look no further than the men’s basketball program to see what Kennedy called his biggest obstacle. After success as coaches at Kent State, both Gary Waters and Stan Heath moved onto bigger programs at Rutgers – Waters now coaches at Cleveland State – and Arkansas, respectively.

“The biggest challenges we have are in personnel costs,” Kennedy said. “At the same time, when we have a coach who is doing an outstanding job and someone comes knocking on our door form a major program, I take that as a tremendous compliment. It’s an exciting challenge.”

Kennedy recognized that even though all programs at Kent State are safe for the foreseeable future, a time could come when a tough decision will have to be made.

“I hope that day never comes,” Kennedy said. “Could it ever? Of course it could. If our revenues were to take a significant dip, we would have to look at that.”

If the budget situation were to worsen, Kennedy said the athletic department would fight for sports that the MAC emphasizes and programs that could be filled, for the most part, with Ohio athletes.

Of Kent State’s “second tier” athletic programs – golf, gymnastics, field hockey and volleyball – all have more athletes hailing from outside the borders of Ohio than in.

“I think we would look at: can we recruit student-athletes from Ohio to feed our programs?” Kennedy said. “We are a state institution; we would really like to concentrate on the state of Ohio. In-state vs. out-of-state tuition would save money.”

Contact sports reporter Tyler McIntosh at [email protected].