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Education news and issues in the Ozarks.

President Smart Talks Costs, Benefits of MSU Athletics

JQH Arena
Scott Harvey

Athletic success is one way higher education institutions can raise their profile and offer a peek into the school’s other offerings.

For Missouri State University, a recent example of that was the success of and national attention paid to last year’s postseason run by the Bears’ baseball team. It’s one of 17 athletic programs at the school.

Missouri State plays division 1 sports, which by NCAA standards requires at least 14 teams, six of which have to be men’s teams. MSU has six men’s and 11 women’s teams. According to President Clif Smart, Title IX also plays a factor in the makeup of the school’s athletic programs, noting a similar percentage of student athletes by gender in comparison to the student body.

“58-59 percent of our student body is female. And to get in that balance we therefore have to have more women’s teams than men’s, and more women’s teams than are required by the NCAA.”

The undergraduate population has continued to trend more female, hence the addition of tennis to MSU athletics a couple years back.

In recent years, the school’s athletics expenditures have averaged around $15 million, with a majority of those funds going toward personnel, such as coaches’ salaries. Other expenses aid travel, equipment, scholarships and grants, and is even to lease space for athletic uses such as Hammons Field for baseball games. These are operational expenditures, says Smart.

“In addition to that we obviously have venues that are used for our athletic facilities. They’re also used for a lot of academic facilities…they’re used for a variety of purposes,” says Smart.

So buildings like Plaster Stadium and JQH Arena were budgeted centrally, Says Smart, and not included in the athletic budgets because they’re not operational costs. Additionally, some are paid for from outside sources. Plaster Stadium renovation costs, for instance, comes from a student fee. But those expenses are now being included in the athletics budget due to NCAA changes, showing a change of nearly $10 million from the previous year.

“The new reporting requirements said, ‘Hey, you gotta put all the facilities piece together, you gotta put everything you budget centrally together…’ when the reporting requirements changed this year our report shows about $25 million among all of those things that we report to the university.”

From a revenue perspective, ticket sales can have one of the biggest impacts on the budget. That, plus sports marketing, advertisement sales and seat assessments combine to produce roughly one-third of the athletics budget. MSU funds the other two-thirds, which Smart puts at around $9 million.

According to Smart, the men’s basketball team has traditionally provided the biggest source of positive revenue for MSU athletics, and that helps pay for pieces of other sports. But ticket sales have recently been on the decline, due in part to the team’s performance, he says.

“So it is absolutely critical to the university and to the funding of the athletic department that we have a successful men’s basketball program.”

Smart notes an uptick in women’s ticket sales in a year that saw the Lady Bears qualify for the NCAA tournament. Football revenue also got a boost; aided in part by the hiring of new Head Football Coach Dave Seckel. That gets back to how success drives fan participation and investment in the university.

Smart says if the basketball team could have the same type of run as the 2015 Bears baseball team, “It would be of such a marketing value that we would never have the ability to pay for it.”

He adds that such success allows alumni to better identify with the school, excites past and current students, helps foster giving and grows enrollment.

“There are lots of positives about athletics. Now having said that, we don‘t have all the money in the world to spend on athletics and so we have to do it in a responsible way and we have to be able to run our athletic department within our budgets and continue to be competitive.”

Above, hear the entire conversation with President Smart, part of the monthly program Engaging the Community.