Daily Egyptian

Athletic director reflects on first year on job, budget impasse

By Jacob Gaertner, @JGaertnerDE

During his first year, SIU’s athletic director was forced to adapt his ideas to fit with a shorter financial leash.

Tommy Bell came in with a 10-point plan to restore the glory of Saluki Athletics but encountered turbulence along the way. Illinois’ budget impasse, which started last July, cut off a large portion of the university’s annual income.

The budget problem impacted Bell’s blueprint for SIU, forcing him to remove a plan to build an indoor training facility.

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“Just in this economic climate and what we’re dealing with, we just need to take [the indoor facility] off the books,” Bell said.

The men’s and women’s tennis programs were considered as potential cuts earlier in the year, another symptom of the budget crisis. Ultimately, the tennis programs were kept for at least one more season and the athletics department began searching for alternative cuts.

“We’ve already identified a $500,000 potential budget reduction in [fiscal year 2017] that would allow us to [keep] all of our programs,” Bell said.

He said reductions involved increasing efficiency and an NCAA rule change that would save $100,000. Bell would not specify what the rule change was.

Two of the points in his 10-point plan involved increasing donors, and Bell said that is the best way to offset the issues with the state budget.

He said Saluki Athletics would increase donations by rebranding the Saluki Athletic Scholarship Fund toward emphasizing academic success over team success. 

The fund has a new brochure that will be unveiled sometime this week and could potentially increase the university’s donors.

“We’re also looking at other opportunities that we’ll probably unveil in the next two years as part of this rebranding of the SASF,” Bell said.

These opportunities include endowments and programs to honor donors who have made large investments in the university. One of the more successful parts of the 10-point plan involved restoring revenue sports to prominence.

“The resurgence of men’s basketball this year was quite the highlight and really affected the bottom line,” Bell said.

After a 2014-15 season that ended with a 12-21 record, head basketball coach Barry Hinson and senior guard Anthony Beane led the Salukis to a 22-10 record this season, the team’s best record in nearly a decade. 

An average Saluki home game had 8,000 attendees while an average ESPN3 broadcast brought 4,000 viewers.

“I think our biggest positive surprise was how well the ESPN3 agreement worked out,” Bell said.

Part of restoring revenue sports was firing former head football coach Dale Lennon and promoting Nick Hill to replace him, he said. Hill, as co-offensive coordinator in 2015, established an offense that ranked near the top of the Missouri Valley Football Conference in nearly every statistical category.

“We’re on the right track with everything that we’re doing,” Hill said. “It’s what you want to see.”

Regardless of his plans, Bell understands that he cannot control everything in the department.

“We have to be flexible and nimble,” Bell said. “The budget has put us in a position that we have to change.”

Jacob Gaertner can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3303. 

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