It has been a busy start to 2019 for Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk and his staff. CollegeAD recently had the opportunity to speak with Sterk as part of our CollegeAD Conversation series and discuss the busy start to the year. Sterk covered a number of topics with CollegeAD including dealing with NCAA as the university appeals sanctions, the construction of a major end zone project, balancing the budget, ticket sales and more.
CollegeAD: In January, the NCAA announced its findings in an academic misconduct case and despite “exemplary cooperation” on the part of the university, the committee still announced heavy sanctions against three programs. Other athletic departments have also taken issue with the way penalties have been handed out in other cases, is there a disconnect between the Enforcement Staff, Committee on Infractions, and the school’s they investigate?
Jim Sterk: I’m not sure. We had great communication and working process with the enforcement staff and as we were working through this we came to kind of the same conclusions. They cited us for exemplary cooperation, and that’s not easily thrown around, and we were going to summary disposition, and then the COI wanted to hear the case, as opposed to us kind of agreeing what we felt was appropriate and what the enforcement staff felt was appropriate.
We feel the penalties were unreasonable and that they call into question really whether any other institutions will cooperate with future NCAA investigations. I think it really has a chilling effect on the future of intercollegiate athletics overall unless corrective action is taken.
CollegeAD: From a financial impact, understanding you’re still kind of developing this, but there have been different reports that the sanctions could have a large impact. Do you have a ballpark figure on that?
Jim Sterk: Ole Miss had I think $6 or 7 million in football revenue held back, and that revenue comes from the College Football Playoff and the bowls. If we are unsuccessful with our appeal, then that could occur. We will have to address that if and when it occurs, but it wouldn’t be this coming year. That’s at least a year away from even thinking about it.
CollegeAD: In February, the department announced it would not increase the price of football season tickets. What was the reasoning for opting to keep prices at the current cost?
Jim Sterk: We’ve been studying this and we’ve actually been gathering input over the past couple of years from our fans and monitoring with our primary contacts and then our secondary market. As far as ticket prices go, a few sections are going to see an increased price, but I think around 80% of the ticket prices are going to be either flat or in some cases fans will see a reduction.
We needed to move our students, as part of our renovation and the team moving to the other side of the field.
With SEC rules, we cannot have our students directly behind the visiting team, and so part of it was moving the students as well, and then with the new south end zone coming on, we really needed to look at the entire stadium as a whole, and so we’re actually renumbering and branding the stadium, so it’s a complete remodel. People are going to be sitting in the same seats that they have if they renew. They’ll know where to go, but their seats might have a different row number and seat number.
CollegeAD: You mentioned the south end zone construction, is the project still running on time?
Jim Sterk: Yes. We expect to move into the first floor in May. It should be all on track to be operational by the first game, but we would like to get football operations in as soon as we can.
CollegeAD: Sticking with the south end zone, there are several reports that indicate you expected to have about $6 million in revenue coming in from the premium seating areas. Is that still a number you’re eyeballing?
Jim Sterk: That’s a number that’s out there. We’re in the process of selling those premium areas. Our suites are virtually sold out now. I think we’re at least 50% through our club seating, and then we have a bunker club and a few other areas, and then we’ll get into the general admissions. So it’s going according to plan, and there’s great interest, it’s going to be a great addition to this stadium and add to the fan experience. But then for our student-athletes, it will be one of the best in the country.
CollegeAD: How much new inventory will the south end zone project add?
Jim Sterk: I know there’s at least 1200 club seats and 16 suites, plus the bunker club, touchdown club, area. So, we will gain a number of new areas, plus there will be kind of an upper deck area that will be able to sell to groups.
CollegeAD: From an overall budgetary standpoint, the latest report shows the department a couple million in the red, what are some of the things you’re doing to create a balanced budget and perhaps even a surplus?
Jim Sterk: So, I think the one thing to understand is those reports are just looking at operational dollars, and so we have not been in a deficit situation as far as our department in any of those years and including this year as far as revenue versus expenses. We also have reserves and we’ve been able to, following 2015, we had quite a drop in revenues – $4.5 million that was the year I inherited – and last year we cut that to $1.8 million and hopefully this year we can balance our budget and then move ahead.
I think most of the revenue from our south end zone, that new revenue, will be utilized to pay on the bond, but also, if we sell above a certain percentage, then that will go to operations as well. So that’s new. We think our ticket prices will incentivize people to engage and come to games, and our team’s going to be really good.
CollegeAD: You mentioned, since you inherited the program, you have been able to cut some of that deficit. Is there anything specifically, simply cost-cutting measures, that you have implemented or have you been able to bring some additional revenue to cut those dollar figures down?
Jim Sterk: We’ve done both. We’ve had some budget shaving if you will, and a percentage that each department head or coach needed to look at in each of their individual budgets, but then we’ve also increased our annual fund.
Annual sport support for scholarships has been at an all-time high, and we’re continuing to contribute back to campus in the tune of about $20 million that goes back in payments to campus.
As a business, you would look at it and we are a cash cow, we’re at over a $100 million budget, and so it’s managing that budget and increasing revenues to be able to really compete at a high level and give our coaches and student-athletes the opportunity to win championships.
CollegeAD: If you guys are contributing back to campus, that’s a good sign for your department to be able to do that.
Jim Sterk: Right, and we’re one of the few that we don’t receive any student fees, as far as from the students and things. We pay back to campus, we do receive a small number of tuition waivers, but what we contribute back to campus is about 20x more than that. So it’s a positive for the university.
CollegeAD: What’s on the horizon, for Missouri athletics?
Jim Sterk: I think for us, our goal is to consistently have each of our programs in the Top 25 and participating in postseason play. Last year, we had 17 of our 20 programs in postseason play.
On the academic side, for each student-athlete to graduate that, if they exhaust their eligibility, we want a 100% graduation rate. We’re in the high 90s percentile of that, and so that is really positive.
When you look at facilities we will continue to improve there, and we’ve got a number of renovations that are going including the Hearnes Center. We’ve put in new video boards and a new floor, and there’s been renovations of locker rooms. Something really neat that we’re teaming up with the city on is a cross-country course that will have the facilities that people will be envious of across the country. We’re going to be hosting regionals, and then ultimately an NCAA cross country championship here.
Indoor and outdoor track, baseball turf, the list goes on and on. Football practice fields and tennis indoor facility. We’ve got a lot of things on the horizon and we’re continuing to update that list and meet with the coaches and evaluate needs and identify resources so that we can continue to move ahead.