Is the financial game plan for your intercollegiate athletics program ready to win?

Maximizing the publicity of intercollegiate athletics provides your institution a winning strategy.

The saying that “college athletics is the front window to the institution” rings truer today than at any time in the past.  It isn’t uncommon to hear conversations about college teams or pride in one’s alma mater, whether it be in a personal or professional setting. The way our society identifies higher education institutions through the viewing of athletics and athletic success continues to surge. Our identities are in some way shaped by our association with a college or university.

The fact is that college athletics is an ideal way to gain publicity and notoriety for your institution. But it is also critical that administrators recognize and plan the future of intercollegiate athletics in a manner that is consistent with the institution’s goals for higher education.

The daily newswire contains a vast number of articles and resources derived from and devoted to intercollegiate athletics. And though those reports are accurate, they do not depict the true picture. While gaining data for a true snapshot can be difficult, an NCAA study in 2013 noted that only 20 Division I schools had revenues exceeding expenses. That is 5.76 percent of all Division I institutions. While the business models differ across NCAA Divisions, what remains the same is the need for more resources and the challenge to remain competitive must be measured against a consistent application of strategic goals and principles for the institution.

The business of intercollegiate athletics is a unique niche that requires knowledge, context, planning and strong management to make sure that the mission of the athletic program is consistent with the institution. As the need for additional resources grows across the entire campus, intercollegiate athletics must develop its own strategic financial game plan so that the educational component of athletics continues to help institutions produce the next generation of leaders. Benjamin Franklin once said, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and in the business of intercollegiate athletic strategic planning and finance, the application of that quote is striking.

During the most recent College Football Playoff semi-finals, it was noted the participating teams had large staffs devoted to football only. While true for a select few institutions at the Division I level, the reality for most NCAA member institutions (regardless of Division classification) is that athletic administrators are forced to serve in several roles concurrently. Addressing the issues within the intercollegiate athletic program can take time away from making sure the strategic financial game plan for the department is established, communicated and considered when making major decisions. 

At Rehmann, one of our core principles is to be obsessed with client success. Pairing that principle with the finances of intercollegiate athletics created an opportunity to properly position our clients with a winning solution. Accordingly, we have developed our “team” to include professionals with decades of experience in both intercollegiate athletics and higher education so that we can assist your institution in the development, execution and review of your athletic department’s strategic and financial game plan. The components of our team’s experience include:

Auditing and assurance services – Performing annual audits to ensure that the activities in athletics are stated correctly and compliant with NCAA requirements. We also have experience in auditing specific revenue sources, primarily ticket and concession sales. 

Athletic budget development and reporting – Using the prior year’s budget as a starting point for the next is wrought with potential issues. Assisting with a true zero-based budget allows for the department to maximize its resources to help student athletes compete, both athletically and academically. Producing a budget reporting package that maximizes understanding by the department and the institution’s leadership can be challenging, as backgrounds of those individuals tend to vary widely. However, developing a comprehensive document that incorporates the budget in a non-financial manner that one can reasonably understand trends and future outlooks is the key to effective oversight.

Financial benchmarking – The battle to “keep up with the competition” is fundamental to many conversations had across each athletic department. Compiling and analyzing financial benchmarks is critical as it helps ensure resource allocation is reasonable but also provides a basis for management to have data when the request for additional resources is made.

Strategic planning and consulting – Preparing a strategic plan for intercollegiate athletics is critical.  It is the business equivalent of a coach having a game plan. It is a challenge to make wise decisions within athletics without understanding how a decision will impact the current and future years. These plans also identify goals and measurable criteria so that the institution can assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall program. 

Employee background checks – As reported in recent months, the actions of employees and volunteers of an institution have had a severe and negative impact on the students of an institutions, as well as the institution. Ensuring that each employee and volunteer who is involved in intercollegiate athletics is properly checked and reviewed helps reduce the possibility that an institution’s students will be impacted. There is no greater investment than an institution’s investment in the safety of its students. 

Ensuring your athletic financial game plan is set allows for effective management and oversight of athletics at the departmental and institutional level. Intercollegiate athletics is just but one of many integral parts of an institution of higher education. Making sure your game plan is “in play” allows for a very clean front window to your institution. From alumni to prospective students, using athletics to your benefit is a winning philosophy.

Published in Higher Education

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