Missouri athletics returning $1.5 million annual subsidy

COLUMBIA | Growing profits from college athletics could mean more money for the rest of the University of Missouri's cash-strapped Columbia campus.

The school's Athletics Department will gradually return its annual $1.5 million subsidy for construction projects debt to the overall campus budget over the next several years.

NCAA research shows Missouri among just 25 major college sports programs to turn a profit in the 2008 fiscal year. Tiger athletics generated $1.4 million in profit that year, and $2 million in the 2009 fiscal year.

An NCAA survey of the 119 Football Bowl Subdivision schools shows that public universities reported a median value of $3.31 million in annual support directly from their institution.

“We're trying to show we are willing to support the university's mission,” said Missouri athletics spokesman Chad Moller. “If we need to tighten up the belt and take a hit for the greater good of the university, then so be it.”

The financial success of Missouri sports — primarily driven by a once-woeful football program that now ranks as a perennial power — comes as university system President Gary Forsee warns of upcoming budget woes of a “once-in-a-generation magnitude.”

Forsee and Gov. Jay Nixon hope to keep tuition rates flat for a second consecutive year. But in return, they expect cuts in state support of at least 5 percent to 10 percent.

“We're happy to be able to move this way in a time when the university so desperately needs the revenue,” said Brady Deaton, chancellor of the flagship Columbia campus.

The campus has contributed $1.5 million annually toward athletics' debt service since 1997, when university curators approved construction of the Dan Devine Pavilion, an indoor football practice facility.

The current subsidy has grown to $2.25 million a year, said Tim Hickman, senior associate athletics director. As the department grows flush, the hope is to rescind even more of that subsidy — and perhaps even contribute money toward the academic side, he said.

“Everything is still under discussion,” Hickman said.

In the current fiscal year, the athletics subsidy for debt service has been cut to $1.25 million. That support will shrink to $750,000 in fiscal year 2011 and then be eliminated by fiscal year 2012.

Moller said the revamped funding structure should reduce the “misconception” among the general public that Missouri athletics is heavily dependent on the rest of the university — and by extension, taxpayers — for its revenue, which approaches $50 million annually.