The Hefty Price Tag of Loyola Athletics

Loyola University Chicago//Flickr

After Loyola’s men’s basketball team participated in the 2015 College Basketball Invitational (CBI), questions were raised about how the Athletic Department spends its money.

The team’s CBI championship gave the Ramblers national exposure, and it’s expected to be a stepping stone toward making Loyola sports nationally recognized, at least in the men’s basketball scene. But that exposure and future recognition came with a hefty price tag. Universities pay The Gazelle Group, the sports consulting firm that runs the CBI, $35,000 to host a first-round game in the tournament, $50,000 for a second-round game and $75,000 for home games in the semifinals and finals, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, a business and financial news and analysis publication.

Since Loyola hosted a game in all four rounds, the Athletic Department’s bill would have added up to $235,000. University officials didn’t clarify if The Gazelle Group gave the school a discount on any of the games.

Although the CBI’s financial hit was big, Loyola’s new Athletic Director Steve Watson said it was an easy decision to spend the extra money on the tournament.

“We made the commitment right from the beginning. We felt like it was a good investment,” said Watson. “It was a significant commitment for us financially to compete in that tournament, so while we reap the benefits short term, I think long term is where you’ll see the benefits of a tournament like that. We feel real good about the outcome.”

Watson said the department is hoping the CBI championship will give the men’s basketball program the momentum it needs to make the leap to more important tournaments such as the National Invitation Tournament or the NCAA tournament. But what if the team doesn’t reach that goal next year and has to play in a “stepping stone” tournament once again? Would Watson let finances be the deciding factor in choosing to participate in future tournaments?

“It wouldn’t hold us back, but it would be something to consider,” Watson said. “We’re looking to fund that basketball program to compete for championships and to be successful on a national level. And in order for us to do that, there are some financial things that we need to do, and we’re willing and able to make that type of commitment.”

Loyola’s new Athletic Director Steve Watson said he believes spending extra money will pay off now and in the future. Loyola University Chicago//Flickr
Loyola’s new Athletic Director Steve Watson said he believes spending extra money will pay off now and in the future. Loyola University Chicago//Flickr

Spending big money on athletics — specifically men’s basketball — isn’t something that stops with occasional tournaments, though, even with an athletic department of Loyola’s size.

In 2012-13, Loyola’s last year in the Horizon League, the Athletic Department spent $2,364,370 on its men’s basketball team alone, according to Forbes. That figure is more than half of the estimated $4.3 million spent on men’s sports, and almost a fifth of the department’s $12,508,656 in expenses.

That was before Loyola made an increased effort to have its men’s basketball program become a nationally known mid-major team by moving the program to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). The move to the MVC put an even larger financial burden on the department, since it costs more to be part of a bigger conference.

On top of that, men’s basketball Head Coach Porter Moser earns a healthy compensation from the university. Moser was the second-highest paid employee at the university in 2013, behind only School of Law Dean David Yellen, according to a Guide Star report on Loyola’s finances.

The university paid professors an average salary of $124,083 in 2012-13. Associate professors were paid an average of $87,057 that year, assistant professors received an average of $74,610, and instructors earned an average of $62,442.

In comparison, the average salary of a men’s team’s head coach at Loyola was $137,129, while the average salary of a women’s team’s head coach was $72,198. This means the average men’s team’s head coach is paid more than the average professor, and double the average instructor. Loyola spent a total of $881,000 on head coaches’ salaries in 2012-13, according to Forbes.

Those figures were before the program made the shift to the more prestigious MVC and before the department hired big-name athlete Sheryl Swoopes as its women’s basketball head coach.

Loyola isn’t the only school to hand out large parts of its budget to coaches, though. The three highest-paid employees on the United States Defense Department’s payroll are the head football coaches at the Army, Navy and Air Force, according to Red Alert Politics.

Mike Krzyzewski, the head basketball coach at Duke University, earns almost $10 million a year, making him the highest-paid men’s college basketball coach in the nation; Nick Saban, the head football coach at the University of Alabama, earns more than $7 million a year, making him the highest-paid men’s college football coach in the nation.

But spending on Loyola athletics doesn’t end with the CBI and coaches’ salaries. The Athletic Department used donations to open the $26 million Norville Center for Intercollegiate Athletics in 2011. The three-story center includes a student-athlete academic center, a sports medicine facility, modern locker rooms and state-of-the-art strength and conditioning equipment.

Loyola used a generous donation to fund the state-of-the-art Norville Center for Intercollegiate Athletics, which opened in 2011. Courtesy Loyola Athletics
Courtesy of Loyola AthleticsLoyola used a generous donation to fund the state-of-the-art Norville Center for Intercollegiate Athletics, which opened in 2011. Courtesy Loyola Athletics

Some students took notice of Loyola’s spending in athletics, but they gave the school overwhelming approval.

“I don’t mind it at all, because, one, we won [the CBI], two, it gives us something to be proud about as students,” said freshman Gianni Cook.

Kelsie Mazur, a senior cheerleader, agreed.

“That was a smart decision on [the Athletic Department’s] part, considering that we do have great athletic teams here, and we need to bring more awareness to that,” said Mazur. “Our school has the potential to be a sports-renowned school, and kids here don’t know that yet.”

Student Government of Loyola Chicago Vice President Mariana Chavez said the Athletic Department’s spending is justified because it’s what Loyola students want.

“It’s great because students want us to have a stronger presence in the athletic field, and investing and winning is the best way to get that attention,” said Chavez.

Despite all the spending, as a mid-major program, Loyola faces financial constraints that big sports schools in the Power Five conferences — the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Pacific 12 Conference and Southeastern Conference — don’t face.

Athletic departments at universities in those conferences generally receive millions of dollars in funding, meaning they have the resources to spend big money on their teams. That can include paying for promoting and marketing the teams, the construction of new sports facilities, new team equipment or added costs to play in tournaments with national exposure.

Loyola is not in a Power Five conference, so it has to use its available resources as best as it can to create its vision of a powerful sports program.

“As far as those Big Ten-type schools, no, we don’t have the financial resources that they have. But we continue to strive to … better position ourselves in our conference,” Watson said. “But we feel good about where we are and where we’re going in the Missouri Valley [Conference]. We’re going to focus a lot in the coming years on generating more revenue.”

Even as a smaller-sized mid-major athletic university, having the type of money to spend on athletics is one issue, but having an administration willing to devote a large chunk of money to the athletic department’s budget is another.

“We have a lot of support from the administration,” Watson said. “There’s some improvements that we need to make, but as far as our finances and our budgets, there’s been a strong commitment from the university to really put us in a position to be competitive in the Missouri Valley Conference.”

The university’s president, the Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J., wrote a letter to the university community in the summer of 2013 detailing what he wanted Loyola’s athletic program to grow into in the near future.

“Loyola athletics is on the move,” wrote Garanzini. “As we move forward with the development of an increasingly robust and competitive athletic program at Loyola … our athletes are ready to compete on the national stage, and together we will build on Loyola’s legacy of excellence, both on and off the court.”

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