Athletic director updates Faculty Senate on budget

Brooke Schwartz, Administration Reporter

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Athletic director Tom Michael updated the Faculty Senate on the athletic department’s struggle with the budget impasse, including a lack of funding in facilities and a potential need to cut sports.

The athletic department’s own budget was brought into question by economics professor Teshome Abebe, who had questions about how realistic the budget truly was.

“I am very supportive of the athletic students here. At the same time, I have reviewed the budget of the last few years, I have looked at the actual budget, the budget itself, and prior year numbers, and I find no discernable wisdom, I find no discernable coloration from one to the other,” Abebe said.

“Part of this has leads us to all sorts of problems, in my opinion. First, perhaps, we are over-estimating the ability of the athletics department to improve revenue streams, perhaps that’s one issue. Second, we’re, perhaps our budgeting, does not take into account our institutional situation.”

Michael said the department is working hard to be responsible, but have been struggling to stay in budget the past couple of years.

“Being fiscally responsible was absolutely what was important for us as an athletic department to be an entity within the institution,” Michael said.

Because of budget cuts over the past couple of years, the athletics department’s business manager position had to be cut.

Michael said the department now works with the university business office on the yearly budget.

The department gets a lot of money through student fees, so the lower enrollment rates have really taken a toll on the athletics department, Michael said.

He said the top two budget concerns are travel expenses and scholarships, with both being hard to predict and plan for.

Michael said the lack of funding for facilities affects enrollment, as many potential students are deterred by Eastern’s older equipment and facilities.

“A 45 pound weight weighs the same whether it’s got the nice logos on it, it’s bright and shiny, , or if it’s rusty and beat up, like some of ours are, it still weighs 45 pounds,” Michael said. “But to a 17-year-old kid, they’ll think that the nice, fresh, shiny one is going to make them bigger, faster, stronger, than the one that’s been used.”

Michael and Faculty Senate members brought up how the lack of costly facilities is something that effects enrollment for academics as well.

The decreased budget has also lead to discussions about whether some of the 21 sports Eastern currently has should be cut.

Michael said he can see both sides of the debate.

Potentially losing up to four programs could save money now, but he is worried about the negative perception it could create, he said.

“For the first time in a couple years, the public perception at least, is ‘things have to be better at EIU, right? Enrollment is here and you’ve got a budget’ and I don’t want to have to refute that and say it’s as tough, financially, now as it’s been,” Michael said.

“At least the public perception is that everything is stabilized in EIU and maybe moving upward.”

Michael said this is why he is concerned with cutting sports.”My concern is that if we come out and say that we’re going to cut sports, what kind of negative impact is that going to have on any momentum that we have?” Michael asked.

Michael and others on the senate were also worried about the potential loss of students who chose Eastern for a specific sport.

The discussion of cutting sports has been happening for a while.

It has been talked about previously at Board of Trustees and other meetings.

Michael said this discussion will continue until enrollment numbers have increased enough to justify the costs of Eastern’s many sports teams.

With many improvements deemed necessary for the department, Michael said he was just trying to fix whatever he can afford.

“We’re just trying to chip away at little things, or smaller things anyway, to keep improving a bit, and to show our student athletes that we are trying to improve that experience in some ways and continue to make a difference,” Michael said.

Brooke Schwartz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]