Basketball losses ripple through Athletic Department

By Joe Ragusa

Illinois is in the midst of a severe budget crisis, and Saluki Athletics felt the crunch at a time when revenues from men’s basketball weren’t up to par.

“We’ve weathered probably the most perfect storm from a financial standpoint,” said Mark Scally, chief financial officer for Saluki Athletics. “We’ve had to make some substantial cuts in the things we’ve done.”

The most significant cut came March 1, when Athletic Director Mario Moccia terminated the contract of former coach Chris Lowery, but the cuts began before that. According to the department’s financial records, SIU cut $1.6 million in expenses from this year’s budget to overcome an expected revenue loss of $674,453 from last year.


“We budget our money centrally, so basketball revenue helps support (other sports),” Scally said. “So when the revenue’s down, the money’s got to come from somewhere.”

Men’s basketball ticket sales accounted for 61 percent of SIU’s overall ticket sales in 2011, and Scally said around 30 percent of the remaining money was from football tickets. The remainder came from volleyball, softball and women’s basketball, the only other sports that sell tickets.

But sales have been down for both men’s basketball and football in the fiscal year 2012. Men’s basketball ticket sales accounted for $788,085 this season, a 37-percent decrease from how much they made the season following SIU’s Sweet 16 run in 2007.

“Everything’s easier when you have money,” Scally said. “At our peak, we weren’t faced with some of the statewide budget cuts and some of the other issues we’ve had.”

Moccia is declining all interview requests until a new men’s basketball coach is hired, but he said March 1 the decline in ticket sales and donations to the athletic scholarship fund was a large part of the decision to fire Lowery.

“If we’re going to lose $500,000 worth of ticket sales, there’s a point where we can’t go any lower,” Scally said. “It also spills into our sponsorship contracts. When you have a basketball game with decreased attendance, the value of the advertising that might be done is lower.”

Scally said he expects a 50 percent decrease in royalties from 2011, even though money from sponsorships and advertising has gone up every year since 2007, when Saluki Athletics partnered with Learfield Sports to handle their multimedia rights.


Scally said the department is doing several things to cut costs in the wake of declining tickets sales from men’s basketball and football this season, such as going paperless with forms in the office and cutting down usage of university vehicles.

There was also a budgeted $500,000 cut into the amount the Athletic Department spends on scholarships for 2012, which Scally said was a rising cost because of tuition increases.

“There’s been budget cuts all across campus, so at the same time some of the similar decreases that I’ve seen in ticket sales, I’ve seen in student fee income when enrollment’s down,” Scally said. “So I wouldn’t say that basketball is the only place where we’re struggling.”

Scally said the revenue losses won’t affect how the Athletic Department moves forward with projects such as Saluki Way and the new track facility. The student athletic fee went up 258 percent in six years to pay for both projects, Scally said, along with $3,571,740 in earmarked contributions, mostly for Saluki Way.

“Saluki Way hasn’t really taken away any operational money from the other things that we’re doing,” Scally said.

The Athletic Department has beefed up its efforts to schedule away games at bigger schools for football and basketball in an effort to pull in more revenue, Scally said, because the bigger schools pay SIU more money to come to their stadiums.

Scally said there was no sweeter feeling than walking away Sept. 16, 2006, from a 35-28 win over Indiana University’s football team with a $500,000 check from the school.

The Athletic Department’s official numbers from the 2012 fiscal year won’t be released until January, Scally said.