Photo of Bulldog Stadium by Ben Hensley.
Written by Ben Hensley
When compared to other teams in the Mountain West Conference, Fresno State’s Athletic Department ranks eighth in expenses and ended up at the bottom of the list in revenue for the pandemic affected 2020-21 season, according to new data.
The information is part of the Knight-Newhouse College Athletics Database by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Colleges self report their data on total expenses and revenues ¬— outlining where money goes, where it comes from and how it compares to previous years.
Fresno State’s Athletic Department is a separate entity from the college and therefore was not eligible for relief funding from HEERF (Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund). The department was ultimately required to take out a loan of $3 million from the California State University system to cover expenses during the 2020-21 season, according to Jason Cappadoro, associate director of Athletic Business Operations.
According to Cappadoro, the loan will be paid over the next 10 years, with approximately $315,000 in interest.
The department ended the 2020-21 season with a $6.66 million deficit, with annual expenses totalling $36.24 million (ranked eight among a dozen conference schools), and total annual revenue of $29.58 million (ranked last among conference schools).
The other two California schools in the Mountain West Conference, San Diego State and San Jose State, also posted annual losses during the 2020-21 year.
“We took the approach where we’re trying not to impact the student athletes as much, so obviously we didn’t do anything with athletic aid,” said Cappadoro. During the 2020-21 season, Fresno State only competed with teams also in the Mountain West Conference.
The Conference implemented travel restrictions at a conference-wide level as well.
Along with travel restrictions, the department also did its best to cut costs in different places as well, with football being the only athletic program on campus until October 2020, and spring sports not returning until January.
They also limited recruiting and associated travel expenses.
“One of the reasons that we’re probably so low in the conference is that California was restricting activities,” Cappadoro said. “Our [college] president was not allowing teams to return.”
Travel expenses accounted for around 8% of annual expenses.
Looking ahead, the department will be paying back the CSU loan taken out during the pandemic, but the department aims to reduce the chance of student athletes’ benefits being removed.
“There will be some [budget cuts]. Obviously we’re building back to where we were pre-COVID and that will take a little bit of time,” said Cappadoro. “For this current year (2021-22), we were definitely very conservative on our revenue estimates just because we didn’t know what the turnout would be for our fans.”
Cappadoro added that the department was impressed by fan turnout, but indoor sports like basketball and volleyball still saw lower numbers than usual, largely due to the uneasiness of indoor venues in light of COVID-19.
Donors, however, accounted for $4.13 million, roughly 14%, of the department’s revenue.
“Obviously, I can’t say enough,” Cappadoro said. “Without their [donors’] support it would be extremely hard to run any type of athletic department.
Cappadoro attributes the donations as a byproduct of Fresno’s uniquely supportive donor network. In a typical year, gifts make up $8 to $9 million dollars annually. Despite the pandemic, the department still brought in more than $4.1 million in donor contributions.
Overall, the data showed that all schools, not only Fresno State, suffered greatly from the pandemic on a financial level. Cappadoro, however, believes that the most important thing in the department is the experience and accessibility for their student athletes.
“That money really impacts our student athletes,” he said, adding that it’s an important element that allows student athletes to have the full Division-1 experience, even during a pandemic.
● School Rankings by Expenses
1. Air Force Academy – $58.68M +7.23
2. UNLV – $52.09M +0.55
3. San Diego State – $49.42M -0.5
4. Colorado State – $48.82M +0.96
5. Hawaii – $41.15M +3.49
6. Boise State – $40.13M -0.21
7. Wyoming – $40.12M +2.37
8. Fresno State – $36.24M -6.66
9. Utah State – $36.05M +0.79
10. San Jose State – $35.29M -2.79
11. New Mexico – $35.28M +1.72
12. Nevada – $34.8M +0.44
● School Rankings by Revenue
1. Air Force Academy – $65.91
2. UNLF – $52.64
3. Colorado State – $49.78
4. San Diego State – $48.92
5. Hawaii – $44.64
6. Wyoming – $42.49
7. Boise State – $39.92
8. New Mexico – $37
9. Utah State – $36.84
10. Nevada – $35.24
11. San Jose State – $32.5
12. Fresno State – $29.58