The athletics budget for the University of North Texas is expected to increase to $30.4 million for the upcoming fiscal year, to level the playing field within Conference USA and support a new baseball program, school officials said.
During UNT system Board of Regents meetings last week, the board passed an amendment to the system budget to consider adding $2.8 million in revenue and expenditures to the proposed athletics budget of $27.6 million. Talks with the finance committee, UNT President Lane Rawlins and athletic director Rick Villarreal are underway.
A completed budget is expected in two weeks, Rawlins said.
“We’re a lot better than people in the region and state think we are, and one of the reasons we get overlooked is because so much attention is paid to athletics,” Rawlins said. “Athletics is how you get attention. ... It’s simply a fact of life for an institution of our size and location.”
The board wanted to learn more about how UNT compared with other institutions in the conference, and some were concerned that athletic programs aren’t enough of a priority. Rawlins presented figures that show UNT is on par with spending in its new conference, but Board of Regents Finance Committee chairman Don Potts said the university spends less than half of the average on recruiting.
“The issue of concern is that we’re moving into Conference USA and we want UNT to have the same resources that our competitors have,” Potts said. “We do want to win, you know.”
Potts said that $3 million has been committed by major donors to athletics in hopes of starting a baseball program, and a portion of that will be included in the upcoming budget. The donations could help build a baseball stadium, recruit a coach and hire staff.
“Everyone has a baseball program except us, and we need one,” he said.
The startup cost of baseball and the expenditures involved in switching conferences require increased funding, Rawlins said.
“We do believe that baseball will be a pretty good revenue sport eventually, but in the startup phase it will require some investment,” he said.
Next week, the president will begin meeting with the athletic department to reconfigure the budget, which he estimates will take two weeks. The proposed budget has not been updated since February, he said, and there are other expected streams of increased revenue in addition to donations.
“I think there’s some revisions that can be made that will show their revenues are going to be greater than originally estimated,” Rawlins said. “To the extent that those go up, then that covers the increase in expenses.”
The board passed the amendment to allocate additional money in a 6-3 vote, with provisions to review the five-year strategic plan for athletics and to make a recommendation to the board to include budget adjustments.
“They were clearly pursuing this because they’re concerned about the institution, and believe as I do that this is probably a good opportunity for us to make more of a splash in athletics and draw more attention to the University of North Texas,” Rawlins said.
Within the strategic plan, there will be built-in accountability measures, Potts said. Teams will receive additional funding, but to continue receiving the increased revenue, they will have to perform.
Potts and Rawlins said they hope the investment will translate into stronger teams, draw greater involvement from alumni and the community and attract more students.
“What we need to do is win some football games to instill some pride in our alums and students,” Potts said. “We’re going to have to give the folks something to be proud of, and it’s time to make the move.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.