The Missouri athletic department operated at a loss for the second straight fiscal year, MU athletic director Jim Sterk told reporters on Monday.
The 2017-18 fiscal year ran through June, and Sterk said the operating loss is “about the same as the year before,” when the department spent $102,409,131 and generated $97,848,195, thanks in large part to lagging ticket sales. He had predicted operating in the red during the 2017-18 fiscal year when he met with reporters in March.
According to USA Today’s most recent database of Division I athletic departments' finances, Mizzou ranked 32nd in revenue and 30th in expenses during the 2016-17 fiscal year. Among Southeastern Conference schools, Mizzou ranked last in revenue and next to last in expenses, ahead of only Mississippi State. Sterk said he’s “hopeful” the department can balance the budget during the current fiscal year.
The department, which receives $1 million from tuition waivers, covers all operational deficits with reserves.
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“We’ve been looking at how do we work this long term,” Sterk said. “A lot of the fixed expenses continue to rise — the operational benefits for employees and salaries and travel and food and all of those things. … What we’ve asked our staff to do is, what do we need to do to continue to move forward and grow? Are there areas that we can adjust and not spend and be prudent with our money?
“It’s not like we’re in the poorhouse.”
During the 2016-17 fiscal year, ticket revenue shrank by about $1.15 million, down to $18 million. Sterk said his department has secured about 1,000 new football season ticket holders for the 2018 campaign, but football season ticket totals overall are down from this point a year ago.
The athletic director hopes that the football program’s south end zone project — which is still under construction and will provide more luxury seating to Memorial Stadium while reducing the capacity of MU’s football stadium — will meet the “changing dynamics of the new consumer.”
While football attendance drops nationwide, Sterk believes there are other ways to measure excitement for a Mizzou football team that enters its third season under head coach Barry Odom. He pointed to the department’s scholarship annual fund, which raised a school-record $50.4 million in 2016-17 and is up a couple of hundred thousand dollars this year, according to Sterk.
Winning will help generate more palpable excitement, of course. The Tigers return their top players on offense and defense from a season ago in quarterback Drew Lock and defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. But Sterk hesitated to say this is Odom’s best opportunity yet to prove he’s the right person to lead the football program.
“Yeah, I think we can make great progress this year, but you guys have been around — you never know,” Sterk said. “So something happens to players or things that occur, so I think you have to take into account all of those things when you look at, at the end of the season, was this a successful season? I try to do that when I look at it. It’s not just wins and losses. But, yeah, do we want to make postseason? Yes. Do we want to win our division? Yes, we want to do that. But it just depends on how things go.”
Sterk added that Odom took over a program that was “in a state of flux. I think he’s done a really good job of developing the culture of the team and the players and the coaches. So I think that we have an opportunity to have that all come together this year.”
Here are more notes from the athletic director’s meeting with reporters.
On the athletic department's Heisman campaign for Lock: Sterk said the department’s decision to begin a Heisman campaign for Lock required input from Missouri coaches, teammates, the quarterback and the Lock family. As part of the promotional push, the department’s public relations office will distribute Lock bobbleheads to some media members.
Mention of the bobbleheads led Sterk to discuss the prospect of student-athletes profiting off of their likenesses, which they are currently unable to do because of NCAA amateurism rules. Though he believes Lock “benefits a lot from this (college) experience,” Sterk said he can envision a future change to that likeness rule.
“It’s a very complicated (topic), with the amateurism,” Sterk said. “If you really take true value of every player on the team, how do we do that? How do you do it with baseball or track and field?”
On the ongoing construction of the south end zone complex: With the south end zone construction ongoing, temporary locker rooms will be constructed in early August, in time for the Tiger football team to practice entering and exiting the field from a set of trailers. Department spokesman Nick Joos said the temporary locker rooms will be “spartan,” without any showers.
The team will still participate in Tiger Walk, during which fans greet them as they walk above Providence Road from the Mizzou Athletic Training Center to Memorial Stadium. The Tiger Scholarship Fund is still in the process of allocating parking spots for donors.
On new KU AD Jeff Long and the future of the Border War: Sterk sent new Kansas athletic director Jeff Long a congratulatory text message when Long, formerly at Arkansas, took the job leading the Jayhawks’ athletic department.
Long’s daughter Christina is an MU student and works as a photographer for the athletic department.
Will the past SEC connection between Long and Sterk lead to a renewal of the Border War rivalry, or at least the Border War exhibition for charity that happened this past October?
“I think there’s a good relationship,” Sterk said of the dynamic between him and Long. “What comes of that, I’m not sure, because it’s overall not an athletics thing. It’s university overall.”
On a lawsuit filed by a former track assistant coach: Sterk mostly declined to comment on former MU track assistant coach Carjay Lyles’ racial discrimination lawsuit filed against head coach Brett Halter, associate athletic director for compliance Mitzi Clayton and the University of Missouri Board of Curators. He said only that he wanted it “to be clear he (Lyles) left on his own for a job at Tennessee.”
Tennessee's track program announced it hired Lyles as an assistant coach on Aug. 2, 2017. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported Lyles offered his resignation later that same month. Lyles now works at Toledo.
On potential baseball stadium upgrades: After replacing the MU baseball team’s infield with turf, the department has no current plans to make the outfield turf, Sterk said. Though Mizzou plans to install a turf outfield eventually, Sterk said he presently does not have a donor lined up for the project.
On basketball ticket sales: The deadline for men’s basketball season ticket renewals is less than two weeks away, and Joos said renewal sales are “in the ballpark of last year,” when Michael Porter Jr. re-energized the fanbase.
"Overall, competitively, I think we have an opportunity to be even better," Sterk said of coach Cuonzo Martin's team. "I think that excitement should be around the program, and I know the team and coaches feel that way.”