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Athletics: Financial challenge- Cajuns strapped in competition

Financial challenge- Cajuns strapped in competition

Lafayette Daily Advertiser, Dan McDonald / Staff Writer
Posted on October 30, 2002

LAFAYETTE – The average NCAA Division I-A football-playing institution brings in as revenue, and spends as operating expenses, between $17 and $18 million annually.

The total athletic budget at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette is one-third of that total.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone inside the department or any close follower of the Ragin’ Cajun athletic program.

What may come as a shock is that the UL Lafayette program gets fewer dollars from state sources than all but one football-playing member of the Sun Belt Conference, and less than at least one league member that plays on the Division I-AA level.

"There’s no question we can compete," UL Lafayette president Dr. Ray Authement said last week. "But we can’t compete with the deficits we have here."

It doesn’t take an accountant to see a problem. And it’s not a problem that can easily be fixed, because the reasons for the low numbers are many and complex.

Followers of the Ragin’ Cajun program are on radio shows, fan forums and chat rooms on a regular basis, bemoaning the fact that the university does not provide more resources to the athletic program.

There’s a reason the university doesn’t help more financially.

It can’t.

State law prohibits it.


UL Lafayette’s total athletic revenues for the 2001-02 fiscal year totaled $6,717,981, and total expenditures that year came to $6,707,022. Those numbers, while higher than previous years, don’t stack up to the budgets of, for example, Middle Tennessee ($9,525,661), Idaho ($8,580,755), Arkansas State ($8,353,201) or New Mexico State ($7,070,021).

The biggest difference in those figures is the amount of support that comes directly from a combination of state funding and student fees, funds that are used by every football-playing school in the Sun Belt

In the UL program, the biggest source of revenue is a direct state allotment, an amount of money that each of the state’s four Division I-A schools may receive for its athletic operation. In the 2001-02 year, the maximum amount allowed for disbursement came to $2,438,988.

That allotment of funding replaced the former method in which student activity fees were used to fund athletic programs. Up until the late 1980’s, university athletic programs were funded based on student enrollment, with a percentage of each full-time student’s fees going toward athletics as a mandatory fee.

For that fee, students received free admission to all regular-season athletic events hosted by the university. In effect, each student had a season ticket to every sport.

Students still receive those admissions, but the dollar amounts granted to athletic departments are no longer on a per-student basis. Instead, the amount is regulated by state statute and does not fluctuate due to enrollment.

The Board of Regents of the University of Louisiana System sets a limit each year on how much can be transferred to each school depending on classification. That is the $2,438,988 number this year, a number up from the 2000-01 figure of $2,389,451 by 2.1 percent and a number that can go no higher by statute.


Where UL Lafayette – as well as state system and Sun Belt member UL Monroe – lags behind other Sun Belt football schools budget-wise is in that maximum. At least four of the five league football schools other than the Louisiana universities receive both a direct state allotment AND utilize student fees as part of their total athletic revenues.

Compare the two UL schools’ maximum state support, the $2,438,988 figure, with their league brethren, according to figures received from the schools:

* Arkansas State, with $2,297,953 in state subsidy and $3,148,269 in student fees for a total of $5,446,222 in direct state support;

* Idaho, with $2,137,407 in direct support and $1,631,225 in student fees for a $3,768,632 total;

* Middle Tennessee, with a whopping $5,287,760 in state subsidy and $1,517,561 in student fees for a total support of $6,805,321; and

* New Mexico State, with $2,872,400 in direct support and $1,724,300 in student fees for a $4,596,700 total.

Those four schools’ athletic programs get an average of just more than $2 million annually through student fees. The Cajuns and ULM’s Indian program get zero.

Figures for North Texas, the other Sun Belt football school, were not broken down between general support and student fees. The total dollar figure for state-supported revenues for the UNT program, though, is approximately $5.6 million according to a university spokesman.

Western Kentucky, which does not compete in the league’s football race as a member of the NCAA’s Division I-AA, has a combined general support and student fees subsidy of nearly $6.2 million, according to a member of that school’s athletic department.

Authement said that he is beginning a new initiative to have the powers that be take another look at the method by which athletics are funded in Louisiana.

"I’m trying to change the Board of Regents’ minds," he said. "We’ve got to have some relief. We’re not allowed to assess a student fee, and therefore we’re playing from behind. Western Kentucky just passed a new $80 student fee for athletics and we can’t get a dime."


Despite these figures, Authement has been criticized by some fans and followers for perceived lack of financial support. The numbers don’t bear that out.

In fact, because of the shortage of dedicated state funds, Authement has annually made other university income available for athletics. These auxiliary fees include some revenues from parking, rental of university facilities, vending machine income, dormitories and several other sources.

"That’s been there ever since I’ve been president," he said. "We’ve always placed a large portion of our discretionary funding into the athletic program. There can be no commitment stronger than there is here in funding."

UL Lafayette athletic director Nelson Schexnayder agreed with Authement’s assessment of funding struggles, but said that the university’s support comes in many other methods. This year, he said, the university approved the filling of two new positions in marketing and development with duties strictly aimed at the athletic program.

"That’s proof of the commitment that this university has to its athletic program," Schexnayder said.

That commitment can only go so far in making up for the lack of funding, Authement said.

"The commitment’s not lacking at the university," he said. "The commitment is lacking elsewhere. People need to know the truth."