Missouri Tigers athletic director Jim Sterk says he believes sports could help reverse the school’s declining enrollment.
The Tigers football team’s brief player boycott amid racial turmoil on campus during fall 2015 pushed the campus into the national spotlight and Mizzou is still recovering from that tension, which contributed to a 35.5-percent decline in freshman enrollment during the last two years.
According to figures from Mizzou, 6,211 freshmen enrolled in 2015 during the semester before the protest. That figure dipped to 4,799 last year, and as of earlier this month, only 4,009 freshman have paid deposits for the 2017 fall semester.
But Sterk says winning on the athletic field has a way of salving such wounds.
“We have a role to play, and I think success with basketball and football are the most visible,” Sterk said. “We’re sitting 15th in the country in the Learfield Cup. Those are good things that people are seeing, not only just in the state, but across the country. … Overall, we can help it come back, and I think we’ve started to help it come back.”
Men’s basketball has dominated headlines during the last two months, with the hiring of coach Cuonzo Martin and the signing of top 2017 recruit Michael Porter Jr. as the headliner in the best recruiting class in program history.
“Kids make decisions on, ‘Oh my gosh, Michael Porter’s going to Mizzou. I think I want to go there,’ ” Sterk said. “People, if they can have some fun watching intercollegiate athletics at a high level, that helps them make a decision.”
Sterk expects the athletic department to receive a maximum of $40 million to $45 million from the SEC Network disbursement, which should be announced next week during the annual Southeastern Conference meetings in Destin, Fla.
From a budget standpoint, Mizzou Athletics is a separate entity from the wider Columbia campus and is self-sustaining on its own revenue, but that arrangement may be tweaked with deep state budget cuts expected.
“We do help the broader campus and we’re continuing to do more,” Sterk said. “I think this next year we’re going to send more (money back to the university) with dining and housing. Any way we can, we’re going to try to do that, but we have significant dollars that are going back to the institution in tuition, room and board, and fees and overhead.”
Mizzou athletics paid campus dining and housing services $780,000 during 2016-17, but rising costs and more mouths to feed will push that bill over $1 million next fiscal year, according to Sterk.
“We’re one of their biggest clients,” he said.
Sterk also indicated he’s hopeful the enrollment decline has bottomed out.
“I think they were projecting even lower than what’s there (for next year), so I think we’re on the way to becoming pretty healthy as a university and an athletics program,” he said.
The Memorial Stadium south end zone project, which is expected to receive final approval from the University of Missouri System Board of Curators at next month’s meeting and should be finished in time for the 2019 season, is expected to help the campus as well.
The campus already receives 16-18 percent of the annual athletics budget in payments for scholarships, utility bills for athletics facilities and additional costs associated with game-day operations, like traffic control and security personnel, a spokesman for Mizzou Athletics told The Star.
Athletics will cover daily costs for operation of the new football facility when it opens as well.
“We get that off the ground, there’s going to be money going back to the institution that will help with operations for the rest of the campus as well,” Sterk said. “There’s ways that we’re helping and, if we’re successful, then it only helps the university.”
The athletic department pays a small percentage of any major project in fees to the campus. There’s a campus planning and design surcharge for management and oversight, which will be $2.5 million to $4 million next season, along with an infrastructure fee, which will be $3 million to 3.5 million next year if the new football facility receives final approval, according to MU executive associate athletic director Tim Hickman.
A small percentage of major gifts to Tigers athletics — less than 5 percent, according to Sterk — is funneled in the campus’ central development fund, so a large-scale project, like the new football facility, doesn’t benefit strictly athletics.
Sterk’s department also pays a yearly overhead fee for campus-wide services such as accounting, human resources and procurement, which Hickman expects to be roughly $2.8 million next year.
Sterk said there was no update on the academic-fraud investigation, which was triggered in November when former tutor Yolanda Kumar self-reported her role in taking tests for student-athletes among other allegations.
“They’ll tell me when they’re ready to tell me something, as far as the NCAA,” Sterk said.
He added that he has not been told investigators — including Mike Glazier of the Overland Park-based law firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King — have finished conducting interviews, so the case remains ongoing.