At CU Athletics, we tell our story pretty well to fans, donors and anyone else who follows our social media channels and other communication platforms. We tell them about our drive to compete for and win championships, and how their support creates a world-class and holistic student-athlete experience.
But one area I want our department to get better at is talking to the very people we collaborate with and run into on campus every day: you.
We couldn’t do our jobs in the Athletic Department without support from this campus’s stellar faculty and staff. I want you to know how much I appreciate your collaboration with our staff and student-athletes. Collectively, you help us in ways you may not know about. And it’s my goal to start a regular presence in CU Boulder Today to share some of the behind-the-scenes ways that we work together and answer some of the questions I often get about CU Athletics.
Starting with this article, I would like to expound on two of the most frequent questions I get from faculty and staff:
- What are you doing to improve the health and wellness of student-athletes?
- How does the Athletic Department budget work?
These are two topics I addressed at a recent Athletics Conversation Series organized by the Boulder Faculty Assembly. It was a great dialogue and I look forward to more of these sessions. You can attend the next one on Dec. 5, which will feature Kris Livingston, senior associate athletic director for student success. She will talk about how campus collaboration was a factor in our student-athletes collectively eclipsing the 3.0 GPA mark last spring.
Health and wellness
First, there is no greater priority I have as athletic director than ensuring the health and wellness of our student-athletes. We know that mental health needs are growing for all college students. In the Athletic Department, we currently have two full-time licensed counselors to address psychological health and performance needs. On average, they see about 40 student-athletes per week. Given this demand, we will soon hire two more staff members and a post-doctoral resident.
Our student-athletes face many pressures, which has only been increased in this social media age. We want to ensure their success while they are here and after they graduate. We also know that a small percentage of them, such as Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay, will make it to the pros. Our Scripps Leadership and Career Development program prepares them for that day through programs such as STEPS (Success Training and Exit Planning for Seniors). Former CU standout quarterback Sefo Liufau recently joined current seniors at a dinner to talk about his struggles to make it in the NFL. Liufau told the audience how grateful he is to have an economics degree that he uses in his current profession as a Denver-area mortgage loan originator.
Another key aspect of wellness is ensuring our student-athletes remain healthy now and long after they leave CU. The long-term impacts of concussions have been debated in the press in recent years. We don’t just want to talk about it—we want to study the facts and present those findings to the benefit of all. That’s why our Athletics staff is working closely with two CU Boulder professors on Pac-12-funded studies.
Integrative physiology Associate Professor Matt McQueen is the director of the Pac-12 Concussion Coordinating Unit and is conducting research that includes tests from virtual reality goggles. McQueen is working with all Pac-12 universities to assess concussion impacts. Theresa Hernández, professor of psychology and neuroscience and associate dean for research in the College of Arts & Sciences, is leading a first-of-its-kind study of 2,000 alumni who graduated during the past 25 years to assess the level of psychological and psychical health student-athletes and the general student body experience after leaving CU.
The second area people want to know about is where Athletics revenue and expenses come from. In short, we are a campus auxiliary department, just like Parking Services and Housing & Dining Services. We have to bring in as much as we spend.
Our approximately $90 million in annual revenue comes from many different sources, but the largest bucket of money is a result of Pac-12 Conference distribution. Last fiscal year, we received a distribution of $31.8 million made up almost entirely of broadcast rights revenue from the key sports of football and men’s basketball.
This sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but our conference still lags behind the Big Ten, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference in this category. We hope to have better revenue distribution by 2024, when the Pac-12’s broadcast rights contract is open after the expiration of the current deal with ESPN/ABC and Fox.
Our second- and third-largest revenue categories are ticket sales (24% of our budget) and donations (11%). Another area of revenue comes from campus support of $5.3 million that primarily goes toward financial aid for student-athletes. This equates to about 5% of the Athletics budget.
It takes a lot of resources to run an athletics program and our largest expense categories are staff salaries and benefits, sports operations (such as travel and equipment) and debt services. We are fortunate to have built state-of-the-art facilities in recent years that help us recruit premier student-athletes. And those facilities, such as the Champions Center and Indoor Practice Facility, come with the equivalent of a mortgage that we will be paying for about the next 25 years. We believe it’s a wise investment that allows us to stay competitive with other premier institutions.
We’re grateful to be a part of this campus because Athletics’ success is its success and vice versa. While our student-athletes get a lot of airtime for their accomplishments, we know there are also countless more examples across campus that together make us the prestigious university we’re proud to call home.
Rick George is the CU Boulder athletic director.