$1.2 million revenue gap won’t cut Olympic sports at UNC

Even after scrambling to fill a gap in expected revenue of more than $1 million, athletic department officials said Olympic programs are not in danger of being cut.

The option of eliminating entire programs emerged after a proposed $45 increase to the athletic fee, which all students pay, was rejected in October.

But athletic director Bubba Cunningham said he is worried about teams being nationally competitive in the future because of the funding shortage.

“It’s a long-term problem,” Cunningham said. “We can’t grow the type of budget that will keep us as competitive.”

Cunningham said the department will no longer be able to provide Olympic sports — varsity sports other than football and basketball — with the same supply of resources.

“We won’t be able to enhance the operating budget like we had hoped,” Cunningham said. That budget includes travel, recruiting, game day operations, marketing and more, he said.

He said he is not sure if the department will ask for a fee increase next year.

Increased revenue in other areas of the budget have encouraged athletic department officials since the fall.

Rick Steinbacher, associate athletic director of marketing, said attendance at non-conference home basketball games increased 13.9 percent from last season.

“The average person spends $5 on concessions and a couple dollars on merchandise,” he said. “Revenue is up pretty significantly.”

Steinbacher attributed the jump in attendance to the popularity and preseason ranking of the team.

“They’re good, likeable people, and the students and the public rally behind them,” he said.

But Cunningham said this season’s ticket sales will help balance the 2011-12 budget, not next year’s, which the increased athletic fee would have helped.

The sales of football tickets in Kenan Stadium’s Blue Zone, however, will help finance athletic scholarships in the 2012-13 year, he said.

Karlton Creech, director of capital projects for the Rams Club, said about 500 of the 3,000 seats in the Blue Zone are still up for sale.

He said the profit from ticket sales so far exceeds the amount needed to finance the debt from Blue Zone construction.

“It’s more than paying for itself already,” Creech said.

Since 2010, out-of-state athletes have not been granted in- state tuition, and the Rams Club absorbed this $2.7 million cost, Cunningham said.

Creech said the Blue Zone revenue will not be a fix-all to rising scholarship costs but will help as another source of revenue.

Sponsorship also plays a large role in bridging the financial gap, Cunningham said.

The University currently has contracts with Nike and Learfield Sports, and these won’t end for several years, he said.

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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