Monday, September 21, 2009

How the State Budget Crisis Could Affect MSU: Part One

Facing a massive budgetary shortfall, state lawmakers are looking to cut roughly $1.2 billion out of about $9 billion general fund budget, and almost nothing is safe.

Mid-year cuts to schools, shuttering prisons, scaling back even further on road repairs, everything is on the table. However, none of those cuts are likely to directly threaten MSU sports in any significant way.

How's that, you ask? Simple. MSU athletics isn't funded, in whole or in part, by tax dollars from the state of Michigan.

MSU requires its athletics department be fully self-sufficient, meaning that its revenues are solely drawn from things like ticket, concessions and merchandise sales. It also makes money from sponsorships and Big Ten revenue sharing. Profits made by the athletics department stay within the department and aren't filched by the university for educational purposes.

The reason for that rule is simple. You never want athletics to "compete" with, say, the College of Education for money. However it comes in extra handy during times like these, when one wants to protect the sports (and things like Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio's multi-million dollar contracts) from state funding cuts.

Now, there is obviously some overlap. Big-time donors to academic pursuits often get sports tickets or facility tours as a "thank you" for their generosity, for example. But should the state cut, say, $30 million from MSU's budget mid-year, you won't really see the impact on the football field.

If no budget is passed by October 1, state government in Michigan will shut down for the second time in three years, and that could potentially impact football Saturdays in a small way. In a government shutdown, essential services performed by the State Police would remain in operation, however it's unlikely that directing traffic for MSU football for the Oct. 3 game against Michigan would be seen as "essential" under that mission. It would be an inconvenience for MSU to replace those officers, sure, but the university doesn't rely that heavily on the State Police and could likely pick up the slack by bringing in more officers from other municipalities.

Coming Tuesday: While the budget mess won't affect MSU sports directly, it is likely to impact the rest of the university quite severely. We'll take a look at what cuts are on the table, and what the fallout might be.

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