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October 30, 2014

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UNLV sports coping with cuts

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Leila Navidi

UNLV plays Montana State in November in Las Vegas. The Rebels’ return to national prominence, increasing ticket sales, has cushioned the blow of budget cuts to UNLV athletics.

Thanks to the UNLV basketball team and the Wisconsin football team, UNLV’s athletic teams haven’t suffered as a result of the recent state-mandated budget cuts.

But that’s likely to change, UNLV Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said, if the university is subjected to further cuts.

Although UNLV had to slash nearly $500,000 from its 2008-09 athletics budget, the blow was softened because increased ticket revenue from basketball and football allowed the athletic department to add to a reserve fund it established for just such tough economic times.

According to figures provided by Hamrick, ticket revenue for UNLV football increased 114 percent this past season — largely as a result of a home game with Wisconsin, for which Badgers fans bought thousands of UNLV season tickets, and two other sellouts. Also, UNLV basketball ticket revenue was up 27 percent as a result of the team’s winning ways and return to national prominence. And fundraising increased 18 percent last year.

Hamrick said UNLV athletics has a reserve of “$1.3 million or $1.4 million” that the department has accumulated over the past four or five years that he will have to dip into to offset budget cuts and an expected decrease in football ticket revenue this season. Without opponents such as Wisconsin, Hawaii or BYU on the schedule this season, there is the potential for only one home sellout, against in-state rival Nevada-Reno.

“From that standpoint, we’re very stable,” Hamrick said of the reserve fund. “But not knowing what the future cuts are, because I don’t think anybody knows, we’re tightening our belts, like everybody else is, and we’re cutting as much fat as we can — hopefully without affecting the competitiveness of our program and how we deal with academics.”

One area in which Hamrick said he is trying to “make adjustments” to save money is having more of UNLV’s teams take buses for shorter trips. UNLV’s football team, for instance, will ride a bus to and from San Diego and Provo this season and to Tempe for its game with Arizona State, but will fly back to Las Vegas.

“Those are the types of things that we’re trying to do where we don’t think it will affect our competitiveness but it will help us save on the bottom line,” he said.

Deeper cuts, however, could have a more profound effect. Hamrick said he has heard talk of additional cuts of up to 14 percent, which could result in having to slash more than $1 million from his annual budget.

“To go in and cut a million dollars out of your program, then your whole philosophy on what you’re trying to do changes,” he said. “We haven’t changed that yet because we’ve been able to generate revenue.

“Our expectation of our coaches, as we’re sitting here today, is ‘Hey, go compete for a championship but at the same time our student-athletes need to perform well above average academically’ — which they have. Those are our expectations. Have they changed right now? No. Will they change in the future as resources diminish? My answer to that is, quite possibly, yes.”

Hamrick said he could be forced to evaluate coaches differently in the future if the administration can’t provide coaches with budgets comparable to those of other teams in the Mountain West Conference, or if he is forced to trim tutoring or academic advising services for student-athletes.

In the end, Hamrick said, he is not complaining about the current state of affairs because he realizes other areas of the university are being hit harder.

“We have to deal with what’s thrown at us just like everybody else in the state,” he said. “There are academic programs here that are suffering, and that hurts me as bad (as cuts in athletics) because the university is here to educate people.

“We’re adjusting things, we’re tightening the belt a little bit and we’re working hard to generate more revenue outside of what we’ve done in the past. We’ve shown great progress there and we have to continue to do that and try to make ends meet.”

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