FARGO -- The job titles behind the names of the 108 people who work in the North Dakota State University athletic department are as varied and diverse as any company out there. Troy Goergen, who has been with NDSU since 1999, held out his hands shoulder-length apart and joked his business card was that wide.
Goergen is the senior associate athletic director for external operations.
What is not seen behind every business card with Bison athletics is really one main objective. Whether you are the athletic director, an assistant volleyball coach, an athletics academic coordinator or an equipment assistant, one job title fits everybody: Fundraiser.
Every July 1, the athletic department starts over in a yearly quest to meet the budget. In simple terms, that means generating enough revenue to meet expenses for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
NDSU has never failed at that goal in the 40 years Pat Fredrickson has handled the books. She’s the senior associate athletic director for business. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been days or months of nervousness.
“We do sweat it out, though,” said athletic director Matt Larsen.
The budget for 2019-2020 is $24.8 million. On the revenue side, the department figures it will bring in $11,783,800 in “gifts and other revenue” and $4,199,200 in ticket sales.
“We always say everybody is a fundraiser,” Larsen said. “Our coaches have the expectation of winning championships, and a lot of our external folks have expectations. We have to bring in revenue to make it all go and make it all work.”
It’s one large circle with no real beginning or ending point. The athletic department is tasked with generate funds to maintain success and, if the programs maintain success, it helps in raising the money.
How that is done perhaps begins Tuesday mornings when the nine members of the senior athletics staff meet in a finely decorated boardroom on the second floor of the Sanford Health Athletic Complex. They are Larsen, Goergen, Fredrickson, deputy director of athletics Todd Phelps, senior woman administrator and compliance expert Colleen Heimstead, development director Jack Maughan, internal operations director Scott Woken, Team Makers executive director Derrick Lang and assistant to the athletic director Linda Gangelhoff.
Admittedly, they debate, they argue, they joke, they laugh, they disagree and they brainstorm.
“But at the end of the day the goal remains the same,” Phelps said. “I can certainly speak to the fact that’s not the case in a lot of places. You can get around a senior staff group that has agendas, cliques and everything else that can create a mess. This group is one of the best that I’ve been around.”
Broken down, finding the yearly funds mainly belongs to Goergen, Maughan and Lang. That means every July 1 they have to orchestrate how to come up with $25 million. Some of that is already built in like the $4.4 million from university funds and almost $2 million from the state. Student activity fees account for $1.4 million.
Pressure? Yes and no, Goergen said.
“What may be perceived as pressure by some people is fun at the same time,” he said, “because we’re selling something intangible — student-athletes. The product itself is sports.”
Beyond ticket sales and donations, the athletic department generates funds through corporate sponsorships, advertising, licensing and game guarantees, such as men’s basketball games at high-major opponents or when the Bison football team plays at the University of Oregon in 2020.
NDSU will have to continue to find ways because expenses will only go up in the coming years. Tuition goes up. Flying teams out of Fargo is not cheap. Salaries increase. And there are costs that go unnoticed like a health insurance hike this year of about $2,000 per employee.
“That was a huge chunk for us,” Fredrickson said.
Every Division I program has relatively huge chunks. Ohio State had revenues of $205 million and expenses of $204 million in 2018, according to the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. Regionally and on a mid-major level, South Dakota State has a 2019-20 budget of $21.5 million.
Coming up with NDSU’s budget is about a six-month process, Phelps said. It starts in February when coaches are required to submit their estimated expenses for the following year. They consist mainly of travel and recruiting.
The scholarship estimate is brought into the picture followed by a meeting with Larsen, Phelps, the coach and the coach’s sport supervisor. Each sport has a senior associate as a liaison. For instance, Phelps oversees volleyball, men’s basketball and baseball while Maughan oversees wrestling.
After that, the revenue side is brought into each sport’s budget. When times are tight like two years ago when NDSU had an $800,000 reduction in state funding, the result of a directive from the North Dakota Legislature to cut higher education costs, expenses can get dicey.
“We were able to manage through it,” Larsen said.
They managed it with two factors that were non-negotiable: There had to be enough funding that would allow every sport to be successful, like an adequate recruiting budget, and there was to be no impact on the student-athletes. In other words, conditions like travel and food were not to change.
What did change was putting items like ordering new uniforms or specific pieces of equipment on hold.
Two years later, times are better.
“I’d say we’re breathing a little easier,” Larsen said, with a bit of a nervous grin. “But I’ll go back to what I said before. Everybody feels the pressure a little bit to raise 65 to 70 percent of the budget every year and understanding that some of the things are out of your control. The economy is out of your control.”
What they can control starts with those Tuesday morning senior staff meetings. As the athletic director, Larsen has the final say. As the deputy athletic director, Phelps is the second in command who also deals with capital projects.
As the associate athletic director for external operations, Goergen’s area of focus in revenue generation. He’s also responsible for brand management, marketing and external messaging.
Heimstead’s expertise is NCAA compliance issues, meaning she has complete knowledge in the world of intensive NCAA rules and regulations. Often, student-athlete eligibility falls on her desk. Woken manages facilities and event operations as well as providing supervision to the sports medicine staff.
The entire operation is a coordinated effort to keep the Bison from going in the red. In an age when athletic departments consistently come under scrutiny for high budgets — USA Today reported in 2017 that 18 Division I schools had athletic department deficits of more than $1 million — NDSU has continually paid its bills.
“If you look at the last decade in terms of national success, brand, White House visits, national titles and all those things, it’s been a really good return on investment for the university and the state of North Dakota,” Larsen said.