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Pastilong admits ups, downs of managing $20-million plus budget

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

MORGANTOWN -- In a sports world where the almighty dollar dictates how programs are run from the National Football League to middle school volleyball, why would any university athletic department want to be self-sufficient?

That's the route West Virginia University's athletic department decided to take in recent years, and until the 1999-2000 school year, things ran rather smoothly.

"About 10 years ago, we took on the mode of self-sufficiency in the athletic department," WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong said. "We've always operated in the black.

"But I have to say that last year really taxed our resources."

The athletic department was dealt a double dose of trouble during the last school year.

The Coliseum, home to WVU's basketball teams and several other lower-profile sports, was ruled a health risk when tests for asbestos revealed dangerous levels of the toxicant in the dome.

This resulted in those sports being displaced while the asbestos was removed from the massive concrete structure. The WVU men's basketball team had to play their "home" games in Charleston, Wheeling and Fairmont.

If those struggles weren't enough, WVU's usually strong football program took a nose dive in 1999, finishing just 4-7. That resulted in diminished ticket sales near the end of the season, taxing the department's resources even further. Through it all, the department still managed to stay $400,000 in the black.

This further reinforced Pastilong's belief that self-sufficiency works for WVU.

"For starters, the burden of running the athletic department has been lifted from the university in general," Pastilong said. "We're extremely proud of that.

"Plus, it enables the university to earmark funds for academics that many other universities would have to for athletics."

The athletic department oversees a budget that ranges anywhere from $22 million to $24 million per year. Pastilong said this year's budget will be in the neighborhood of $22.5 million.

It costs $3.3 million just for scholarships alone.

"We fund scholarships for 350 students-athletes at WVU," Pastilong said. "Plus, another 150 or so students-athletes can realize their dream of competing in college athletics through WVU."

In addition to funding scholarships in 21 sports, the athletic department has nearly 100 employees.

This is where self-sufficiency has its downside.

"For every dollar we spend, we have to generate a dollar in turn," Pastilong said. "We can only spend what we make.

"Therefore, we can't pay our employees what we'd like to and sometimes we've got to put a new building project on hold until we can save enough up to get it started."

While many believe self-sufficiency gives the athletic department free reign on how to spend its money, Pastilong says that's not the case at all.

"Our monies are managed via the policies and procedures that the university and state has in place," he said. "Our scholarship monies are deposited and managed via the WVU Foundation.

"Although we are self-sustaining, our monies are managed as are all of the state's and university's monies."

While monies at most university's don't change hands for scholarships, Pastilong says the fee charged by the WVU Foundation is not a problem with him.

"There is a fee that the foundation has in order for it to operate, however, we are extremely pleased with our association with the WVU Foundation for their management of our monies and for their assistance," Pastilong said. "We work very well together and their investment of our monies has done quite well for us."

The WVU Athletic Department gains most of its monies from five different sources. Football ticket sales account for a little more than 25 percent of revenue. MAC fundraising efforts bring in nearly 25 percent. Nearly 35 percent of the monies comes from conference revenue sharing (mainly through television monies) and five percent comes from student fees. The remainder comes from basketball ticket sales.

"Not having home basketball games and our football team having a losing season really affected us monetarily," Pastilong said. "Not only did we lose money because we had less people at our home games, but when you throw in travel costs, lodging, rental fees, moving staff and equipment, you can see what a monumental effort this was financially and physically."

Pastilong said that part of the cost of moving the basketball team and some of the other teams was offset by the university. He noted that the total figure for the displacement of winter sports teams could reach nearly $1 million.

The university also paid for the entire asbestos abatement project, which itself totaled nearly $7.8 million.

"The Coliseum belongs to the university, not the athletic department," Pastilong said. "In addition to housing the athletic department, basketball teams and other sports, it also houses the physical education department, intramurals, graduate programs, recreation and some divisions of the med center.

"No one department at the university could undertake such a project on its own."

With last year now behind him, Pastilong is looking forward to a promising 2000-2001.

"With the fabulous home football schedule we have of seven games and the fact that our basketball team will be back in the Coliseum this winter, we can make up for some of what happened last year," he said. "What could really get us caught up fast would be a nice bowl at the end of football and a post-season appearance by our basketball team. That's extra money that you don't budget and can catch you up on things like this."

Are you listening Don Nehlen and Gale Catlett?

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