The University of South Dakota’s Athletic Department budget is the lowest in the Summit League and Missouri Valley Football Conference — something university administrators hope to change soon.
USD’s total athletic department budget of roughly $9.4 million is about $6 million less than South Dakota State University’s total athletic budget, and about half of North Dakota State University’s.
The student fees that contribute to USD’s athletic department budget are also low — coming in at just under 15 percent — accounting for about $1.3 million of the total athletic budget, which is why an increase in the General Activity Fee fund is being proposed.
When USD began the process of becoming a Division I university in 2011, student fees were not raised to cover the increased cost. Athletic Director David Herbster said although they’ve done well with what they have, some financial resources are tapping out.
“Believe me, if you’ve got the cheapest house, you don’t tell everybody that your house is the cheapest house. I mean, you dress it up as best you can and fix what you can when you can,” Herbster said. “And that’s kind of what we had done for a while, but it got to the point where you can’t do any more with what you have.”
USD President James Abbott said in addition to athletics, student activity support is also underfunded.
“We haven’t raised the fee as much as other institutions, and we haven’t asked the students to pay for the arena, for instance,” Abbott said. “We’ve concentrated on raising money to build the facilities, but we do need operating dollars.”
There wasn’t a push to cover the expense of D-I athletics through student fees because it likely wouldn’t have been approved the South Dakota Board of Regents, Abbott said.
“At the time, there was some belief that increasing fees at the same time we made the move (to Division I) would not be supported by the Regents,” Abbott said. “I may be wrong, but I think there was some sentiment that that would be the case.”
In place of student fees, Herbster said athletics has increased funding through institutional support, fundraising, corporate sponsorships, ticketing and renting facilities.
“Certainly this doesn’t come on the backs of the students,” Herbster said. “We’ve already pushed really hard.”
Herbster said there are three areas of athletics he wants to improve. The first, and top priority, is changes or additions that will affect all student athletes, such as hiring athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches. Additionally, some sports are under-resourced when it comes to coaching salaries and the number of people on staff.
His second priority is to improve the marketing office and other areas that will bring more money back to the department.
“I was really looking for the student fee support to help us in those areas, kind of enhance our base so we can generate the additional revenue and the additional dollars on our own. I think that part’s pretty critical,” Herbster said. “I’m big on trying to make sure we are as self-sufficient and reliable as possible, but also knowing the reality of where we’re at.”
Lastly, Herbster said more facilities and custodial staff will need to be hired to keep up with the number of games and events held at USD.
“When we look at that from a build-up process, it’s kind of like small, medium, large,” Herbster said. “Because we won’t really truly be able to do everything that we want to do until that third year.”
Tyler Tordsen, Student Government Association president and USD General Activity Fee Committee member, said he quickly recognized the need for an increase in GAF funding when Herbster presented his department’s case during GAF hearings this October.
“From the athletic side of things, they came to us last. They’ve hit up every other revenue source that they could first before coming to us,” Tordsen said. “They’ve already got those commitments everywhere else, and it’s our turn to pitch in, too.”
Tordsen said in three years, these extra funds will make a big difference at USD, and not just in the athletic department.
“It’s kind of an all-encompassing investment, is how we looked at it,” Tordsen said. “Nobody likes a fee increase, but this is something we need to do to stay competitive and to keep pushing onward.”
Junior Amanda Salazar, a history education major, said she is not in favor of the large cut the athletic department will likely receive.
“I’m not an athlete — therefore, I don’t understand why athletics should get more money,” Salazar said. “Honestly I’m not a huge fan of it because I don’t have that much money, and I don’t think any other students really have that much money either, so it doesn’t make sense for me to pay for their stuff that I don’t go to.”
Salazar said she thinks it makes sense for USD to have a smaller athletic budget than SDSU and NDSU.
“We’re not as big,” Salazar said. “NDSU — their program is a lot bigger than ours — it makes sense for those universities to maybe have bigger athletic funds than we do.”
Junior Charles Morrison, a business administration major, feels differently.
“I think athletics are important because it’s kind of hard to be a good student when you’re not in good shape,” Morrison said. “Not only that, but it’s really good for the university — it’s a good source of income for the university.”
Morrison was taken aback by the athletic budget comparison.
“That’s ridiculous,” Morrison said. “We are the flagship university of this state — we should have the best funding.”
Herbster said he doesn’t believe the majority of students know athletics is underfunded.
“I want students to have the pride in this place, not just because of athletics, but because you’re a Coyote. And when you’re a Coyote, you’re a Coyote for life,” Herbster said. “At the end of the day, this is your campus. So to me, this is the students investing in their campus.”