UNCW athletics department has plan to balance, boost its budget

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After swearing in two new members - Dennis Burgard and Michael Drummond - the UNCW Board of Trustees got to work Thursday on a plan to improve the college's struggling athletics department. Photo by Hilary Snow.
After swearing in two new members – Dennis Burgard and Michael Drummond – the UNCW Board of Trustees got to work Thursday on a plan to improve the college’s struggling athletics department. Photo by Hilary Snow.

At the start of her first meeting as reelected chairman of the UNC-Wilmington Board of Trustees Thursday, Wendy Murphy stated her commitment to setting the college’s struggling athletics program back on track.

Following that statement — and the induction of new board members Dennis Burgard of Jacksonville and Michael Drummond of High Point — Murphy and her colleagues began tackling that issue.

“We all know that we have done an inadequate job of promoting athletics,” Murphy said. “We are at a critical point where we must embrace a vision that will put Seahawk athletics at the top, just like our athletics.”

During Thursday’s called meeting in the Burney Center, Chancellor Gary Miller and college officials presented a “multifaceted” plan to trustees designed to close the fiscal gap now and bring the athletics department up to a nationally competitive level in the future.

When Miller announced in May that UNCW would not cut any of its 19 sports programs, he acknowledged the move meant the athletics department would need to find innovative ways to increase revenue and efficiency.

Five teams — swimming and diving, men’s indoor track and field, men’s cross country and women’s softball — were on the chopping block earlier this year after an Intercollegiate Athletics Review Committee report on their financial viability was released.

Miller said that, overall, UNCW athletics are in good shape.

“This is a very successful athletics program,” he said. “We have great coaches; we’ve hired some great new coaches. They are all in support of this athletics strategy.”

That “strategy,” UNCW athletics director Jimmy Bass said, is to balance the budget, re-think facilities needs and seek more private contributions and sponsorships.

The department ended last fiscal year $403,736 in the red. Over the last four years, athletics has racked up more than $2 million in deficit spending.

But with planned oversight – including daily monitoring of expenditures and revenue and monthly reviews of the spending plan – Bass said he and college staff would be able to balance the budget at $10.7 million in 2013-14 and hopefully begin restoring a depleted fund balance by 2016.

College officials are also reevaluating the campus’ master plan to ensure they make efficient and practical use of funds designated for repairs and renovations to recreational facilities, which encompass classrooms and services for all students, as well as fields, stadiums and exercise space for UNCW’s 366 athletes.

The athletics department hopes to launch a $5 million project to improve recreational space, Charlie Maimone, vice chancellor for business affairs, announced.

That project, if approved by trustees, will begin with a schematic design that will then be presented to faculty, staff, students and the public over the next several months to garner feedback.  Maimone said he hopes to bring a plan to the board in April 2014 for consideration.

Bass said the athletics department has identified approximately $4 million in needed repairs and renovations and it would take more than $25 million in improvements to bring the program to competitive standards.

“We would like to see some private funding to help us tackle some of those,” Bass noted.

The Seahawk Club, a support organization for the athletics program, has already ramped up its solicitation of donations and corporate sponsorship this year, he added.

As part of that effort, the club has sought sports-specific contributions to help benefit the teams traditionally referred to as non-revenue, in that they do not charge admission to games.