None of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s 17 sports is on the chopping block, chancellor Roger Brown said Monday, but all of them will suffer some financially as the athletic department prepares to cut about $600,000 from its budget in the next fiscal year.
Brown said athletic director Rick Hart has submitted UTC’s plan for sports budget cuts to Dr. John Petersen, the UT system president, for approval.
“It’s tough, as you know, because (the athletic department) has been fighting getting to some level of parity within the (Southern Conference),” Brown said, “but what they know and what I know is we’re going to have to look to private dollars much more frequently. That plan is in place, and it will be painful but necessary.”
Brown and Petersen met with the Times Free Press editorial board Monday, and the primary topic discussed was the athletic and academic budget reductions at UTC in the wake of the $8.4 million in cuts requested by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission late last year.
The athletic department’s operating budget of about $8.5 million has very little fat, Brown said, and to eliminate another $600,000 will require cuts throughout the department.
“We have not looked at eliminating any teams,” Brown said. “It’s in operations, it’s in travel, it’s in equipment. Some of those places are already pretty bare bones, but that’s really the only way we can get there.”
Private funding has always been integral to the athletic department’s sustainability, and UTC needs those outside dollars now more than ever. A privately funded $3.25 million weight room and basketball practice facility — the Brenda Lawson Student-Athlete Success Center — opened last week, and McKenzie Arena, which is in its 27th year of operation, was paid off with the substantial help of Lawson and her former husband, Cleveland businessman Toby McKenzie.
McKenzie recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing debts totaling more than $150 million, but Brown said that would have no impact on the name of UTC’s basketball arena.
The UTC football program netted roughly $800,000 last season by playing two “money” games, against Oklahoma and Florida State, as part of the newly allowed 12-game schedule. The 2009 schedule is not yet complete, but the Mocs will not be playing a second money game, Hart said, to go with the season-ending Nov. 21 game at Alabama.
Both Hart and Brown are hopeful that the football program’s positive momentum created by the hiring of UTC graduate Russ Huesman as the new coach will lead to increased ticket sales and increased contributions.
“It’s a great opportunity. There’s a buzz in the city, and we want to ride that, we want to magnify that,” Brown said.
While all sports are safe now, if more budget cuts are required in the future, then UTC will have to take a hard look at whether the appropriate thing to do is eliminate some programs, Brown said. In the years to come, he said, football could be included if it hasn’t demonstrated a turnaround in both performance on the field and attendance at Finley Stadium.
“In the worst-case scenario,” he said, “I think everything is on the table.”
Brown said he was very optimistic about the football program’s future under Huesman. The chancellor noted how Appalachian State’s success — the Mountaineers won three straight national championships in 2005-07 — transformed not only the campus in Boone, N.C., but the town as well.
“The whole place from the English department to downtown clothing stores went nuts, and it provided an environment,” Brown said. “Before we even get to thinking about how (a turnaround of UTC’s football program) can affect the whole campus, I think it’s going to spill over to the other academic programs.
“They all have a great sense of pride, but I think to see a whole lot of attention focused on the Mocs brand, I think that will get them excited, too.”
Video: Budget ax falls on higher educationAt a Times Free Press editorial board, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga chancellor Roger Brown and University of Tennessee president John Petersen discussed the tight economy and how it will require cuts to athletic and academic programs.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...