Kansas State rolling the dice on athletic department funding

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images) /

Kansas State University is making a move with how it funds its athletic department that fits the definition of high risk, high reward.

As the perception of athletic departments receiving funding from the general coffers of public universities grows more negative, Kansas State has made a move to deal with that bad optic. Whether or not it will turn out to be a prudent fiscal decision remains to be seen, however.

According to Sean Isabella of the Palestine Herald-Press, Kansas State’s athletic department will stop receiving any monetary assistance from the university beginning with the 2018-19 fiscal year. That includes fees paid by students as part of their tuition.

It’s a great optic to soon be able to tell families and the state’s taxpayers that Wildcat athletics aren’t using any of their dollars. Whether or not that will reverse a drop in enrollment that was part of the athletic department’s decision to cut its financial ties to the university remains to be seen, as do many other effects of this decision.

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The Wildcats will become one of just 13 NCAA Division I programs who receive no financial assistance from the student body or university. There are only two other programs in the Big 12 who are self-funded, and those are Oklahoma and Texas. The athletic department budget – and revenues – at those two institutions are much larger than Kansas State’s.

The upside that those schools enjoy, which Kansas State is hoping for now as well, is that revenue will be much more dependable and sustainable. Athletic department staff will no longer have to factor in cuts to their funding by the university based on budget cuts made by state legislatures or enrollment drops. It puts the athletic department much more in control of its own destiny. That could be said to trade one area of risk for another, however.

Meeting the budgetary demands will depend much more heavily on how the athletic department performs now. Donations, Big 12 disbursements and the revenue from events will become more crucial than they were prior to cutting the cord from the university. If ticket sales and donations trend downward similar to enrollment, the Wildcats will truly have “dug one hole to fill another” in this situation.

If donations and ticket sales surge, especially from an uptick of public sentiment regarding the athletic department’s decision not to assess fees on students or use tax dollars, then this could be the best move the Wildcats have made since originally hiring Bill Snyder.