Happy (Fiscal) New Year to the University of Colorado athletic department

The athletic department at the University of Colorado is some $21 million in debt. The shortfall for the just concluded 2013-14 fiscal year is somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.9 million. The $143 million capital improvements program is only fractionally paid for.

And yet the financial picture for CU is as bright as it as been in many years.

I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

Just one year ago …

… the Colorado athletic department was a mess.

The buyout for recently fired athletic director Mike Bohn in May, 2013, just added to the long list of severance agreements with former employees. As the 2012-13 fiscal year was coming to a close, Colorado was facing a $7.6 million overall shortfall for the previous twelve months. As part of that deficit, the Boulder Daily Camera reported that the $918,000.00 buyout of Mike Bohn was just another anchor keeping CU from gaining any momentum. Bohn’s payoff was added to the list of payouts owed or paid to Jon Embree ($1.63 million), Eric Bieniemy ($781,000), Gary Barnett ($3 million), Dan Hawkins ($2.14 million) … a total of $9.3 million in unproductive dollars paid out since 2006.

Adding to the misery index:

–  the fact that Colorado, while optimistic about the hiring of Mike MacIntyre, was still coming off of the worst season in CU football history;

– the reality that the Buffs were mired in a seven-season losing streak, the worst such stretch in the 120+ years of the program (and with no end even visible on the horizon);

– CU was without an athletic director or a vision for the future; and

– oh yes, the embarrassment that, while the rest of the Pac-12 (including Washington State and Utah, of all people!) were building new monuments to their athletic departments, Colorado was nowhere near coming through on at least a decade-old promise on facilities renovation.

Bleak. Dismal. Depressing.

Pick your own term … Colorado was there.

… And now …

Colorado continues to run in the red, but seeing a future of financial stability is no longer a pipedream.

As other programs across the nation are either changing conferences to preserve themselves financially or regretting the move that they recently made (more on that later), Colorado has to be pleased with its move to the Pac-12 conference.

Success on the field notwithstanding, CU’s change of conference is beginning to bear fruit. Colorado had to pay an exit fee of $6.86 million to leave the Big 12, or, more precisely stated, agreed to forego $6.86 million in revenues it was otherwise owed. Adding insult to injury, in its first season as a member of the Pac-12, Colorado did not share fully in the television revenue of the new league in the Buffs’ first season, getting only a partial payment owed to the Pac-12 due to the added conference games and the newly created Pac-12 title game.

This year, though, Colorado received the second-highest payout of all the Pac-12 schools. Content (if not happy) to receive $6-$8 million annually in television revenue as a member of the Big 12, this year Colorado received $19,875,261 from the Pac-12, just a fraction behind Stanford’s $19,887,061, and well ahead of Utah’s $10,161,634 (as the Utes endure their final season only receiving a partial payout from the league).

The almost $20 million taken in from the league will only increase over time, as there are escalator clauses in the television contracts with ESPN and Fox Sports, and as the wholly-owned Pac-12 Networks continue to grow and produce new revenues.

In addition to new revenues from the league, the University of Colorado seems to have found an athletic director who “gets it”.

I will be the first to admit that I liked Mike Bohn, and I felt he did some very good things during his tenure at CU (the hiring of Tad Boyle, while not under circumstances created by Bohn – Jeff Bzdelik leaving for Wake Forest – proved inspired; the hiring of Linda Lappe and Mike MacIntyre; taking the “Buff Unit” to the Pac-12 championships and NCAA tournament), it has become apparent in the past 11 months that the hiring of Rick George to replace Bohn was a stroke of very good fortune.

George has re-energized the CU athletic department and fan base. While success on the gridiron remains elusive, there is a new energy associated with CU athletics. On the field, there has been enough success by Buff athletes (including CU’s introduction to women’s lacrosse) for the University of Colorado to finish 39th nationally in the Learfield Cup standings this year. Coming in 39th nationally may not sound all that impressive, at least until you consider that Colorado doesn’t compete in many sports (baseball and softball, swimming and diving, and wrestling, to name just a few) in which points are accumulated. The 39th-place finish is also more impressive when you compare CU’s finish in 2012-13 (56th) and 2011-12 (54th), CU’s first two seasons in the Pac-12.

George’s greatest accomplishment in year one, of course, is evidenced by the hole in the ground in the northeast corner of Folsom Field. Rick George took on fund-raising for facilities improvements as Job One, and he has come through. Colorado has been talking for years (and years) about improving its athletic facilities, and some improvements (most notably for the basketball programs) have come, but the lack of new facilities for football was such an insurmountable goal as to become a running (cruel) joke to the Buff Nation.

Yes, there are still significant funds which have to be raised for the facilities improvements to be fully realized.

But the mere turning of earth has been so long coming that the mere fact that is actually happening is a huge bonus for Colorado athletics.

The grass has proven greener for Colorado as a member of the Pac-12 …

… despite posting only four conference wins in three seasons as a member of the new league.

Buff fans can be even more content when it is realized that there are, in fact, programs worse off than their own.

In a recent article in Sports Illustrated, the move of Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten – which officially took place this past week – was a presented as a marriage of necessity.  The Big Ten needed the geographic boost provided by the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins, adding Washington, Philadelphia and New York markets to the Big Ten’s viewing area – a viewing area with a declining population base.

But the unlikely merger was also a bailout for Rutgers and Maryland, presumably otherwise fairly stable members in their prior leagues:

“The bigger problem for (Rutgers athletic director Julie) Hermann is the state of her department’s finances. The university had a deficit of $190 million in athletics from 2004-05 through 2011-12, and a staggering $47 million in 2012-13, which is in part due to a variety of one-time expenses. Rutgers will accumulate another $183 million in deficit by 2022, but buoyed by an expected influx of Big Ten cash, the school believes it will be budget-neutral after that” …

“Maryland has overextended itself financially. In 2002, AD Debbie Yow, now at N.C. State, embarked on an ambitious facilities upgrade that ran to more than $175 million even as the school’s revenue programs sank into mediocrity. Football went 35-38 from ’04 through ’09. Basketball missed the Big Dance three times in four seasons from ’05 through ’08. Season tickets and donations dropped. In 2010, Kevin Anderson succeeded Yow, and the department ran a $7.8 million deficit. The next year it cut eight sports”.

The addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten has also had repercussions for CU’s former rival, Nebraska. The new 14-team league, and its new divisions, has led to some “Buyer’s remorse” amongst the Nebraska faithful, who saw the Cornhuskers’ move to the Big Ten as a move up in stature – and a move away from a conference dominated by Texas. The Big Red fan base had visions of taking on Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State in Memorial Stadium on a regular basis, but this year have a Big Ten home schedule consisting of Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue and Minnesota.

Yawn.

Be careful what you wish for …

Fiscal year 2014-15

There are still many challenges ahead for the Colorado athletic department.

The department still faces deficits on an annual basis, and continues to pay off former employees.

The department still owes a loan to the University itself, a debt which will not be paid off until the end of the decade.

The department still has to overcome all of the costs – and lost revenues – which came about from its move to a new league.

The department still has to raise millions (and millions) of dollars to make the $143 million renovation a bought and paid for reality.

But the Colorado athletic department is heading in the right direction …

… and it has taken a long time just to get that far.

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4 Replies to “Happy (Fiscal) New Year, CU!”

  1. I like these sorts of articles. aside from useful information, it provides perspective on just how bad things had been and upon which we can judge progress. without a conference change and bad contracts, the cu ad would have been well in the black – a good sign, an even better one with George in the left seat.

    a couple of questions. is there any further word on fundraising for the SEI? doing the north end does stall for a little more time. and, the regents timing of the parking garage announcement helps split the cost of the project and it sends a good message to the conference that the cu administration is now really trying. or not?

    similarly, any word on the csu stadium efforts? when last I heard the fund-raising deadline was set for this thanksgiving or so and they were only 1/3 of the way.

    and on Nebraska: back in ’10 I thought nu was making a mistake going to the biG, something like marrying for money over love. I wasn’t real sure of it and with larry scott courting the pac16 and nu already gone, it didn’t seem worth mentioning. but, with nu in the pac-12 south, they get ucla, usc, the buffs, and asu every year with Oregon, Washington, and Stanford with two home-and-cycles every six years, approximately. and, when the pac12nets get on direct (after the at&t takeover), per team pac12 revenues will be close those of the b1G. it allows nu to recruit in the pac12 footprint, especially socal, and to have a real chance to return to their glory years. plus, it gives the pac12 a national marquee program, still greater revenues, expansion into a 3rd time zone – now more useful with the pac12 trying to move into better east coast time slots – and gives the conference a thanksgiving weekend ready-made rivalry that will command an espn/abc audience. no offense to Utah, but …

    anyway, thanks again for the great work. asu tailgate for you?

    1. Let’s see if I can get to some of the questions …
      – No word on additional fund-raising. Either the “quiet” period is going well enough, or CU is waiting for fall camp/season opener to announce a new campaign to strike when the attention is more focused on the Buffs;
      – No real downside to the parking garage, other than it pushes back the grand-opening for the practice facilities from early fall, 2015, to late fall, 2015. Some will claim that CU continues to push back deadlines, but waiting a few extra months has clear long-term benefits; which leads to
      – Nothing new on CSU. Still making the same forecasts; still saying it will happen; still not providing any details as to how. Hard to see the Lambs conceding defeat, seeing as how the administration all but condemned Hughes to the wrecking ball. It will be interesting to see how this plays out;
      – Nebraska may eventually like its move to the Big 14. Unless Iowa can regain some of its lost glory, Nebraska only has to get past Wisconsin each year to get to the conference title game. Once the unpopular Pelini is put out to pasture, and the Bugeaters find a coach who can take advantage of a weak division on a regular basis, the Corn Nation will appreciate not having to play Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State year in and year out.

      – Going to miss the ASU game. I’m going to the CSU game, then heading out to Boston for the UMass game. Heading south for ASU would make three travel weekends in a row. So my first true home game will be the Hawai’i game the following weekend …

      1. thanks for the response, it’s always a good learning experience. today the BDC has a piece that an expected big gift will put George over the $47M minimum. bohn did some good things, George is rockin’ it.

  2. Nebraska fans whining about being exactly where they chose to be. Complaining about a terrible slate of home games? Thanks for making my day!!!!

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