The formula for funding of Louisiana collegiate athletics will undergo a radical change with a proposal that goes before the State of Louisiana Board of Regents' Finance Committee today.
If the proposal is approved by the Finance Committee and passed during a Thursday Board of Regents meeting in Baton Rouge, state colleges and universities would have the flexibility to fund significant increases in athletic department budgets.
"It is a significant change in the amount of support for athletic programs that the board will allow to come from the operating budgets," said deputy commissioner for finance and administration Donald J. Vandal. "It allows for a fairly significant increase."
The proposal would alter a Board of Regents formula that has been in place since 1989. The major change would create a support figure based on three percent of the university's total overall budget, along with an increase in percentage support for scholarship funding.
For UL, one of the schools supporting the proposal, the formula change would increase the maximum state support allowed for athletics for the 2007-08 fiscal year from approximately $3.16 million to approximately $6.5 million. Vandal said the increase would be phased in over a two-year period.
That would boost UL's overall athletic budget from the $8 million range to nearly $11.5 million, putting the Cajun program more in line with most members of the Sun Belt Conference. In 2005, the most recent year where numbers are available, Sun Belt athletic budgets ranged from approximately $6.7 million at UL Monroe to approximately $14.5 million at Florida Atlantic.
"We did some analysis over quite a while, looking at conferences that our schools participate in," Vandal said. "The evidence is pretty clear that we've had a more restrictive policy on athletic spending and that's kept them below other schools in most of their conferences. For the most part they're way behind, so we thought it was appropriate to go to some adjustments."
UL president Ray Authement would not comment on specifics of the proposal, but did say he was confident about its approval during Thursday's 9 a.m. Board of Regents meeting. Today's Finance Committee meeting is set for 10:30 a.m.
"All of the presidents were asked for comments and some adjustments were made," Authement said. "What's taking shape is almost exactly what we recommended. We think what we're proposing is very satisfactory."
Since 1989 the Board of Regents' funding for athletics has consisted of scholarship support and base support. Scholarship support includes a maximum number of scholarships in each division - NCAA Division I-A, Division I-AA, Division I-AAA, junior colleges and NAIA. The formula funded that number of scholarships at 75 percent of the statewide scholarship average. For the 2007-08 fiscal year, scholarship support for I-A schools was set at just over $1.5 million.
The base support began with a $1 million figure in 1989-90 for I-A schools, $900,000 for I-AA schools and a lesser amount for other divisions. Those figures were designed to inflate each year based on either the Consumer Price Index for inflation or the state's total higher education budget increase. The 2007-08 base support for I-A schools was capped at just over $1.65 million.
The proposal up for adoption would increase the scholarship support from 75 percent to 100 percent, an increase of just over $500,000 for I-A schools, and would allow base support at three percent of a school's total operating budget.
In UL's case, the university's overall operating budget is approximately $150 million, meaning that the school could put three percent of that figure - approximately $4.5 million - from its operating budget into the athletic program.
"The two elements that create funding haven't changed," said UL interim athletic director David Walker.
Vandal said the 1989 policies were put in place at a time of severe budget problems in the state, to quell concerns that too much of the budget was being moved to athletics. In essence, the policy replaced the use of student fees for athletics, which Vandal said only disguised the use of operating budgets for athletics.
"Our policy was very clear and open," he said. "We've tinkered in the margins with the policy over the years, but we didn't step back to see how it was working. We've had several requests to take a look at it. The truth of the matter is that over the last 10 years the state education budget has grown and athletics hasn't had the benefit of that growth over that time."
Vandal said that his office has received several positive responses from state college presidents, but because of a quick turnaround with the proposal he has not had much input from board members.
"We'll see how the board responds," he said. "But I think part of the justification is that we've had a fairly restrictive policy for 18 years and our schools have been constrained by that."