Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009 | 2 a.m.
- Bobby Hauck full of confidence, wants things done his way (12-24-2009)
- New coach Hauck makes good first impression (12-23-2009)
- New UNLV football coach, athletic director would receive bonuses for BCS appearance (12-23-2009)
- Brother of new UNLV coach says Rebels have a winner (12-23-2009)
- Players react positively to Hauck’s hiring (12-23-2009)
- UNLV introduces Jim Livengood as athletic director (12-17-2009)
- UNLV football recruits play waiting game for new coach (12-17-2009)
- Franchione emerges as potential early candidate for UNLV football post (11-19-2008)
UNLV President Neal Smatresk likes to say the school’s athletic program is its “front porch.”
“We want people to walk up, look around and hopefully come in and visit the rest of the place,” Smatresk said this week.
In an effort to spruce up its porch, UNLV announced Tuesday the hiring of football coach Bobby Hauck.
Although athletics sometimes seems far afield from — and, in some cases, at cross purposes to — universities’ educational missions, UNLV officials hope a more competitive football team will translate into desperately needed revenue, alumni donations and a higher profile for the university.
Experts, however, warn that hiring a football coach might boost morale but won’t necessarily boost profitability.
At UNLV, basketball, with its annual budget of more than $1.3 million, generates “a significant portion” of the money that supports the school’s other sports teams, said Jerry Koloskie, senior associate athletic director for UNLV.
“UNLV has a national brand because of Runnin’ Rebels basketball — our logo is known far and wide,” Smatresk said. “That gives us a platform to help build our identity for academics and to draw in donors and future students.”
By comparison, UNLV’s football program, coming off a 5-7 season, runs a deficit of about $3 million a year. Its annual budget is $6 million.
If the university could cut its multimillion-dollar subsidy to football, that money could be used to support other goals, Smatresk said. “Those dollars could be reinvested into athletic facilities or flow back to the university.”
State budget troubles have forced UNLV to cut spending by 15.4 percent, or $32.8 million a year.
UNLV’s athletic budget totals about $24 million, down about $2 million from last year because of the budget cuts. About $6 million comes from state funding, with the university and boosters coming up with the remainder.
Basketball and football are universities’ big revenue sports — through ticket sales, bowl games, tournaments and television contracts. But the potential economic benefits extend beyond ticket sales.
When UNLV’s basketball team made the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, applications jumped 15 percent. The team’s television appearances shine a free national spotlight on the school, bringing publicity it couldn’t afford to buy.
But a profitable football program and athletic department can be elusive, experts say.
Only a handful of athletic programs nationwide make money, said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., who specializes in sports economics. Research by the NCAA found that new investments in programs do not yield a positive net return, he said.
Southern Nevada’s dim economic forecast makes “the odds even longer” that UNLV will succeed, he said.
Smatresk said he’s heard the skeptics, including some who have called for UNLV to drop the football program and focus on sports at which it excels.
He has seen that happen at two of his alma maters — State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of Texas at Arlington. In both cases, “there was a huge drop in alumni giving,” Smatresk said. “And there was a disconnect from the community. The public stops paying attention to you.”
When both schools decided to resurrect their programs, Smatresk said, “the cost was enormous and the path was tough.”
Jim Rogers, former chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education and owner of Sunbelt Communications, wonders whether UNLV might not be better off if its football program were starting from scratch.
“We wouldn’t have all these years of bad history,” Rogers said. “People look at us and say, ‘Is it just going to be the same old thing?’ It’s an uphill fight to build the public’s confidence.”
Rogers said for UNLV to become competitive, it will require an investment in the tens of millions of dollars, if not $100 million, which is what Nike founder Phil Knight gave to University of Oregon athletics last year.
“We need someone who comes in and says, ‘I want to build UNLV’s program,’ ” Rogers said. “Maybe no one individual has the money, but if we can get the ball rolling, others will sign on.”
The UNLV Football Foundation has brought in about $7 million to $8 million over the years, according to board member Bob Stockham. UNLV’s quarterback in the 1992-93 season, Stockham says the foundation has been somewhat dormant recently because its members didn’t see eye to eye with former Athletic Director Mike Hamrick.
With the arrival of new Athletic Director Jim Livengood, the foundation has restarted its engines, Stockham said. The first order of business will be to build an endowment fund to invest in the program’s future.
As for how to rally the community to support such a goal, Stockham said the answer is simple: “You’ve got to win games. They have to go out there and put a competitive team on the field. It’s pretty cut and dried what we have to do. The real question is how do we get there?”
Still, even if the university succeeds at improving its football team, some doubt it would have much effect.
Given UNLV has a national reputation in basketball, it’s unlikely that building the football team would result in a measurable bump either in revenue from new student enrollment or in the university’s national profile, said David Berri, a professor at California State University-Bakersfield who serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Sports Economics.
Rich Abajian, an assistant UNLV football coach from 1977-81, disagrees. He remembers when average football game attendance was 24,000 fans, at a time when the population of the Las Vegas Valley hovered around 200,000.
College football “is a big business where people can make money,” said Abajian, general manager of Findlay Toyota. “I can’t believe that here in Las Vegas we can’t figure out how to do that.”
Until the university does, it’s important that UNLV not give up on football, he said.
“Even in the past few years we’ve been losing, anytime there’s a little hope people start to turn out in force again to support the team,” Abajian said. “That’s all people need — just a little bit of hope.”