AIAAA NewsAIAAA News - Spring 2009
A Delicate Balance
The Economic Crisis that currently is being endured in the United States, and world-wide for that matter, is certainly a big picture issue. In striving to solve the big picture however, the pressures being created on relatively small-issue programs cannot be overlooked. For Athletic Directors, besides dealing with personal financial issues, the pressures of maintaining their programs in this economic environment become a very delicate balancing act.

The economic reality that everyone faces is seemingly simple. When faced with a shortage of cash flow you either cut expenses or increase revenues, or a combination of both. Nowhere is that more clearly displayed than in the issues of athletic program funding. Can it be achieved? How? At what cost? Who has to give in?

The reality is that less than 5% of high school budgets are involved with the running of an athletic/activity program. A significant amount of athletic support comes from outside sources. To simply ignore athletics because so much of its support is raised outside the normal school funding process is not possible, however. With the severity of most state education budget shortfalls, to ignore these program expenses entirely doesn’t seem prudent, nor politically correct. Cutting academic positions and programs without putting athletics and activities under scrutiny just won’t cut it.

All of these concerns are being addressed throughout the nation.

One can’t pick up a newspaper, surf a website, or even listen to your favorite radio station without being struck by the stark realities of the current situation. How do you find balance in this mess? The solutions being bantered about and even put into action in some places are as varied as they are controversial.

Solutions or even temporary treatments are going to have to be as varied and universal.

Schools in many states are contracting their entire school week to conserve funds and make school days more effective academically. Strength of Schedule...

The Idaho High School Activities Association set out on this balancing journey months ago, prompted initially by the skyrocketing costs of fuel. The discussions and suggestions that have come from the Cost Analysis/Transportation (CAT) committee seem to gain greater relevance by the day. Cutting the number of contests, combining travel schedules and limiting cross state travel, and putting a moratorium on adding sports to the current schedules have all been enacted or discussed.

The cutting of the activity schedule may not have a net cost savings, particularly for the larger schools. Revenues generated at the gate in admissions and with concessions, particularly in boys’ football and basketball, are often significant. Lost revenues could greatly exceed cost savings.

This is part of the strange situation in Ohio. On one hand. Ohio high schools have actually been give the go ahead to add games to their schedule. More Games...

On the opposite, recent levy defeats in Ohio are meaning the total elimination of high school athletic programs. Eliminated...

Not only what to do, but when to do it, becomes a part of the formula. Contractual commitments can become a stumbling block to quick change.

The issue is also not limited to the high school level. The NCAA featured a discussion of the travel issues in its winter Champions magazine. The Travel Game...

Everywhere it appears to be a matter of Tough Times, Tough Choices...

Everyone is Looking to Cut. Looking to Cut...

In Washington state an Athletic Economic Summit has voluntarily formed. As Enumclaw HS Athletic Director Tim Tubbs puts it, “we are brainstorming for new ideas” and there is certainly a call for everyone to think outside of the box.

Any relief from the recently signed Economic Stimulus Bill is likely to be marginal at best. "It's too early to determine if the stimulus will significantly affect us one way or another," says Puyallup, Washington Athletic Director Rick Wells. "The severity of the deficits have to be addressed regardless of what comes from D.C."

This serious, but less than ominous scenario, is not the case in many states. Oregon athletic directors are facing what could be called a “Chicken Little Syndrome”. How that sky will fall is becoming known on a day to day basis.

Barry Bokn, Athletic Director at Willamette High School in Eugene says he is anxious “to see what comes out of Salem. I’m curious to hear more concrete decisions. Everyone is waiting for D-Day.”

Bokn feels that some things are a given in regards to high school athletics in Oregon. “From the state level the expectation is that the April Delegate Assembly will enact an across the board 10% reduction in the number of contests for every sport,” he says. Beyond that point, each school district and each conference is having to adjust according to their own needs and means.

Most Oregon schools have some experience in this budget crunch process which many schools across the rest of the country are experiencing for possibly the first time.

Bokn, in his twentieth year at Willamette, points back a decade to the passing of Oregon’s notorious Ballot Measure Five as a precursor, or at least preparatory course for what athletic directors face today.

Since then most of the Oregon schools have opted for a “Pay to Play” format, he explains. “Most of our high school athletes pay anywhere from $100 to $250 per sport to participate in the athletic programs. We try to scholarship or use work-study type programs to make it possible for any desiring student to meet the requirements.”

Measure Five also meant essentially the elimination of middle school athletics as it had been.

If you would like to know more about a Pay to Play format, Scott J. Smith, Phd., CAA, with Central Michigan University made a presentation to the NIAAA San Diego Conference in January: Pay to Play...

Most states have initiatives underway to try to control the most discretionary of the expenses and that usually focuses on travel and post-season play. Nevada looks to contract divisions of play while Oregon looks at simply combining post-season competition.

Is there any solace in the notion that this is not just an Arizona issue?

While cutting costs is certainly one side of the scale, enhancing revenues has to also be added to the formula. That part of the equation can take many forms, from enhancing existing programs to recreating an entire marketing approach.

The NCAA is taking a look at specific marketing strategies designed for tough economic times. Marketing Strategies for Tough Economic Times...

Where do you turn? Finding the dollar bills to pay the bills may require a lot of thinking outside the box.

The National Federation of High School Athletic Associations is assisting in some manner with the trial enactment of a licensing process to enhance revenue from school identity items. Licensing Program to Benefit High Schools...

Don’t be afraid to use local supporters to help devise creative solutions. Often corporate sponsors can be recruited to support specific programs within the schools, especially if there is a direct connection. Examples could be: teaming with local physical therapy businesses to support the athletic training needs; finding a medical clinic to sponsor special medical needs such as Automatic Electronic Defibrillators (AEDs) at athletic facilities; work with a local business to customize your weight room for a fraction of a turnkey program; create community support events out of your athletic events; etc.

See more creative fundraising ideas here.

Balance will be required here as well. Conflicts will continue to arise. Some schools are finding that their creative solution of enhancing the concession offerings are being met with resistance from health department bureaucrats. High-end concessions are being revamped in some cases.

One solution may be to reach to outside assistance in achieving greater revenues. Whether you turn a project over to a commercial firm or simply get more aggressive in how you market, you certainly need to vet your vendors. Vetting Vendors...

If you have or have the potential to have an active, responsible booster club, now may be the time for them to step forward in new ways. That might help keeping you programs going in the right direction. In the Right Direction...

In the midst of the pressures current economics are creating for everyone, its easy to overlook the big picture and purpose of athletics and activities. Maybe it's worth a moment to revisit the Case for High School Athletics.

None of these issues will be resolved in a vacuum. Your input is needed and your ideas must be shared. AIAAA is soliciting your comments on the direction they need to go. Send your comments direct to your AIAAA board members or you can log into the comment feature on this page and share your thoughts. Commenting on this page makes your ideas part of this newsletter for future readers. You can also email the newsletter at We will feature a wide variety of ideas in upcoming issues.

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