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BSU president wants new vision for athletic department

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BEMIDJI – The university president here has no immediate plans to either add positions in its athletic department or change its hierarchy.

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Rather, Bemidji State University President Richard Hanson said Friday he will wait until the university hires a new athletic director, which is expected this spring or early summer.

“I want to see the vision of the (new) person and how they plan to market our potential future,” Hanson said.

Meanwhile, administrators say, Bemidji State will ramp up marketing of its athletic programs to increase interest in its programs and, hopefully, bring in additional private support.

“Our new approach has to be entrepreneurial, forward-thinking, it has to be promotional,” Hanson said. “We need to have a leader who can really amp up the enthusiasm for all of our sports.”

Hanson announced last month in emails to Beaver athletic staff and key supporters that longtime Athletic Director Rick Goeb would be replaced at the end of this year as the university prioritizes increasing private funding of its sports programs.

“The general trend is marketing, marketing, marketing,” Hanson said of university athletic departments throughout the country. He stated that at larger institutions – the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University, even Ohio State and the University of Minnesota – staff constantly is raising money.

“It’s a full-time business,” he said.

Institutional support for Bemidji State athletics – funds funneled to athletics from student tuition and state funding – is expected to eclipse $3.8 million this school year.

That is an increase of nearly 50 percent from five years ago, when the university contributed $2.6 million toward athletics.

BSU administration now has declared it no longer will increase those subsidies.

“Essentially, we’re drawing a line in the sand,” said Scott Faust, BSU’s director of communications and marketing. “The funds aren’t unlimited and we have to be responsible stewards of our public funding.”

Hanson, while saying he wasn’t trying to criticize Goeb’s achievements, said Beaver athletics must undergo a “paradigmatic shift” to remain competitive.

“We want that person to come up with a vision different from that of the past,” he said.  

BSU is among 16 schools that compete athletically in the Division II Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and one of four NSIC schools that also sponsor Division I hockey programs.

Of those four, Bemidji State is by far the smallest school. The three others – Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State Mankato and St. Cloud State – are more than twice the size of BSU. In 2010-2011, Duluth had an undergraduate enrollment of 10,628; Mankato, 13,395; and St. Cloud, 16,707.

By comparison, BSU had 4,927 undergrads that year, making it difficult to compete financially with those schools, said Bill Maki, BSU’s vice president for finance and administration

“We don’t have the same economy of scale,” Maki said.

For example, schools charge enrolled students an athletic fee, which goes toward funding athletics. BSU charges the maximum allowed – nearly $55 per student registered for six credits or more per semester – which brought in about $430,000 last year, while St. Cloud can charge a lower fee and spread it out across 16,000 students.

Yet the cost for producing a Division I hockey program or a Division II football program is comparable, Maki noted.

‘We’re not spending enough’

Bemidji State is below NSIC averages in scholarships, coaches and salaries, both for coaches and administrators.

“We’re not spending enough to be competitive in the NSIC,” Maki said.

A Pioneer review of the NSIC record books showed that the Beaver athletic teams have won 39 NSIC team titles, 31 of which have been won by men’s teams.

The last women’s team titles came in 1999, when golf, tennis and softball all won league titles.

The recently completed report from Collegiate Consulting showed that, competitively, the Beavers were ranked second-to-last in the NSIC.

That report, which cost the university more than $19,000, confirmed what the university suspected: Athletics needs more funding – not from university coffers but from private sources.

“We need to have … support, from donations and our community, in order to have a strong athletic program,” Faust said.

In 2008, the NSIC accepted those larger schools into the league after their North Central Conference ceased operations.

Butch Raymond, NSIC commissioner, said there were initial concerns that accepting the larger schools back into the NSIC would create inequality, that their size would be a competitive advantage.

“But that really has not happened,” he told the Pioneer. “Those schools have won some championships but they are fighting for everything they can get.”

He pointed out that BSU won the men’s basketball title last year and its football team has remained quite competitive, winning a share of the NSIC North Division title last year.

“The overall competitiveness of the league is what we’re concerned about and I think it really has held up very well,” Raymond said. “I’m very proud of the new schools that have come in and done positive things for our league; it hasn’t been that they’ve come in and dominated.”

He conceded that it might be easier for larger universities to fund more scholarships, but noted the NSIC caps the number of allowable scholarships to keep the league competitive.

Bemidji State, with just more than 46 scholarship equivalencies, is below the NSIC average by 17.87 equivalencies, according to the Collegiate Consulting report. The maximum, for the sports BSU sponsors, is more than 100.

The university is pledging to do better.

Already, steps have been taken toward that outcome. Athletic expenditures for this year – projected to be about $375,000 more than last year – include substantial increases in scholarships.

“Our student-athletes are really impressive people,” Faust said. “We’re lucky to have them. We don’t want to lose them.”

BSU spent about $1.16 million on athletic scholarships in 2011-2012. This year, that figure is projected to increase to about $1.23 million.

“We are addressing the needs, but we still have a long ways to go,” Faust said.

Faust said Beaver athletics needs to have more scholarships, coaches and better salaries so the Beavers can be competitive across all sports.

Maki said the university, which fully funds the maximum allowances for Division I hockey scholarships, will likely spend more on its Division II sports in the future.

“But we can’t get there without additional dollars,” Faust said.

Since additional funding is not forthcoming from institutional support, those increases will need to come from “Beaver Nation,” not necessarily local businesses and supporters but from the national contingency of BSU alumni, parents and friends.

“Really, it is about us maximizing the types of revenue that we haven’t received in the past,” Maki said. “That’s just critical to the whole viability of our athletic department.

Last February, Bemidji State established the B-Club, open to former student-athletes to help them connected to one another and the university. Members are encouraged to make contribute toward their sport and for BSU athletics in general

Other initiatives proven fruitful include an active football alumni group that partners with the university to raise scholarship funds. As the alumni group raises private dollars, the university commits to raise its scholarship support in return.

“It’s a gift-match philosophy,” Maki said. “We want to see more of that across all of the athletic programs.”

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