Fresno State Bulldogs

Budget begs the question: Has Fresno State Athletics hit a financial plateau?

Fresno State posted its intercollegiate athletics budget for 2019-20. The Athletic Corp. board approved the budget last June. It always takes awhile for the document to make its way to the public arena.

That’s because Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro must first give the budget a thorough review.

Here are a half-dozen items that caught my attention. The good news is that 1.) Fresno State is delivering a balanced financial game plan and 2.) it’s a game plan that anticipates pretty much the status quo.

The bad news is that Fresno State expects the finances of its intercollegiate athletic program to show no dramatic changes. Aid from students and the university itself is pivotal. Gate receipts are a relatively modest piece of the revenue pie.

I’m not sure if that’s a winning formula for a mid-level major playing in an industry that is dynamic, to say the least.

1.) Operating revenue this fiscal year, which ends June 30, is projected at $42.9 million. That is $1.44 million more than the 2018-19 budget. The financial statement for 2018-19, which will tell us how close projections were to reality, won’t come until late summer or fall.

Fresno State’s actual operating revenue in 2017-18 was $44.6 million.

2.) University support in 2019-20 is estimated at $19.18 million. That is a slight bump ($11,800, to be precise) from the 2018-19 estimate. Actual university support in 2017-18 was $20.89 million.

University support can consist of a variety of revenue streams. Students themselves are major contributors to the athletic program’s financial strength.

3.) Athletic aid (scholarships) as part of operating expenditures is estimated at 8.25 million in 2019-20, compared to an estimate of $8.13 million in 2018-19.

4.) Game guarantees are estimated at $1.63 million in 2019-20, compared to an estimate of $1.05 million in 2018-19.

This year’s posted budget does not include details – size and source of the money, for example. The football team played USC on the road at the start of the 2019 season. That guarantee may have been substantial.

5.) Football gate receipts were estimated at $4.35 million in 2019. Football gate receipts in 2018 were projected at $4.13 million. Actual football gate receipts in 2017 were $3.82 million.

Jeff Tedford’s first year as Bulldogs head football coach was 2017. His last year as head coach was 2019.

6.) Operating expenditures are estimated at $42.7 million for 2019-20. This compares to an estimate of $41.5 million for 2018-19. Actual expenditures were $45.7 million in 2017-18.

With operating revenues of estimated at $42.9 million, and operating expenditures estimated at $42.7 million, the Fresno State athletic budget in the current fiscal year is balanced.

Fresno State has a marvelous intercollegiate athletic program. The Valley gives a lot of support to the Bulldogs. For the most part, the Mountain West Conference can compete with the nation’s elite conferences.

Fresno State as an institution of higher learning is on the move, which is a boon when it comes to attracting donors and the attention of top-notch student-athletes.

But it’s hard not to sense that the division of NCAA athletic programs into “haves” and “sort of haves” (“have nots” is an imprecise and unfair term for what I’m trying to describe) is picking up speed.

Steve Berkowitz, a reporter with USA Today, published a story in January about athletic finances at schools such as Ohio State and Texas A&M, finding that each had more than $200 million in operating revenue in the 2018 fiscal year. Berkowitz also reported that Ohio State in recent years has reported revenue increases of more than $20 million per year.

Expenses have risen sharply as well, Berkowitz reported. Still, it makes you wonder how much longer Fresno State and its peers can operate in an industry where some of the participants enjoy such massive annual increases in that most important of all assets – money.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.