Bison athletic department not going unscathed in proposed university budget cuts

NDSU officials calling for North Dakota State athletic department to receive $200K less from university funds

NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen speaks during opening ceremonies for the Nodak Football Performance Complex on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

FARGO — North Dakota State officials on Wednesday unveiled proposed cuts to university programs of up to $7.6 million for the 2023-25 biennium. Athletics isn’t unscathed in the plan, although the percentage isn’t expected to be life changing for the department.

University President David Cook is calling for a reduction of more than $200,000 from the school’s contribution to the athletic department’s budget, which this fiscal year is $25.2 million. Of that total, $5.5 million comes from institutional support.

Cook said the cut will amount to about 4.2%.

“What we’re talking about in terms of transformation is we really need to transform the academic side of the house,” he said. “But everybody sits around the table and is part of the team and (the athletic department) is kind of taking one I think a little bit for the team and we appreciate it. It’s going to be hard but we all have to rise and fall together.”

The fact the athletic department generates around 73% of its annual revenue made a difference in the proposal, Cook said.


“To their credit, they’re incredibly entrepreneurial,” he said. “Obviously their success is pretty much second to none when it comes to the space we compete in and because of that success we have great donors who care deeply. And there’s a lot of success in terms of people coming to the games so that certainly helps us in this case.”

Of NDSU’s athletic budget for 2022-23, student fees account for $1.3 million of revenue. Add in the institutional support and that’s almost $6.9 million from the university, or about 27% of the budget.

In terms of the percentage compared to the overall budget, that’s the lowest in the 11-team Missouri Valley Football Conference and 10-team Summit League the last time NDSU administration compared numbers, said athletic director Matt Larsen. That was over a year ago.

“And that’s unless people went down” since then, Larsen said, “which typically doesn’t happen.”

In just the Division I Football Championship Subdivision, data compiled by Knight-Newhouse (a partnership between the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications) showed in 2021 that 52% of revenue for FCS programs came from institutional or government support and a whopping 80% from a combined institutional support and student fees.

FCS programs received 28% of revenue from student fees alone. NDSU’s student fee accounts for 5% of its budget this fiscal year.

“On average the percentage of subsidy at NDSU is lower than the typical FCS institution,” Larsen said.

A study by the online publication Axios found direct institutional or government support funded 35% of all college athletics with media contracts next at 18%, followed by donor contributions (16%) and ticket sales (11%).


NDSU lowers its percentage from the university with ticket sales, philanthropy, advertising and corporate sales.

“There are a lot of ways we kind of cobble it together,” Larsen said. “The other 73% of our budget, a lot of that is predicated on where we are. If we were in a place where our athletic program wasn’t as successful and wasn’t as supported as it is by our fan base, it would probably be extremely difficult to do.”

The support comes in terms of athletic scholarships, which is funded by Team Makers booster club that raises between $5.5 and $6 million annually to fund scholarships for all sports.

On top of that, most of NDSU’s athletic facilities were funded from external sources and the most recent projects were all privately funded.

“Fortunately I have a really good administrative team here and a lot of it is we’ve had a really good product in terms of athletic programs,” Larsen said.

Most recently, that fan base raised $54 million to fund the Nodak Insurance Football Performance Center, which opened its first phase last October with the entire project slated for completion this spring. Before that, the $2 million Tharaldson Softball Complex was dedicated in 2018, the $50 million Sanford Health Athletic Complex and Scheels Center opened in 2016 and the $5.5 Shelly Ellig Indoor Track & Field Facility in 2012.

The Terrence Dahl and Donna Beres outdoor track renovation will see its first competitions this spring.

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Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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