Get in the Game - Part 1

The following is an article with Idaho's Assistant Athletic Director Jim Senter. Before this interview with Jim I thought, for the most part, I knew the goings on of fund raising efforts within the Athletic Department. Today, I really do know and now I realize that we Vandal fans have our work cut out for a variety of reasons.

The following is an article with Idaho's Assistant Athletic Director Jim Senter. Before this interview with Jim I thought, for the most part, I knew the goings on of fund raising efforts within the Athletic Department. Today, I really do know and now I realize that we Vandal fans have our work cut out for a variety of reasons.

The Athletic Department is not immune to State budget cuts. This fiscal year they have to trim 3% out of their budget and next year 10%. Idaho must add a new sport in 2004 to remain in Division 1A, yet another 20 or so scholarships the VSF must pay for. The Vandal Athletic Center must be built to make our facilities competitive which requires more funding. Potential student fee rate hikes mean the VSF must raise funding in an amount equal to the fee increase.  When approximately 800 of the nearly 2,500 donors to the VSF give less than a hundred dollars a year (that's about $8.25 a month) it makes the job even tougher.

There are goals that we Vandal Fans need to meet if we want the Idaho Vandals to be successful. These goals are clearly outlined in the following article. In summary the goals are as follows. Raise membership in the VSF to 5,000 members from the current 2,500 memberships by the end of fiscal year 05, raise gifts to complete the VAC and expand the season ticket base. For the most part if these goals are not met in the future we will have to look for a new conference and it won't be a 1A conference. How will the State budget cuts affect athletic department funding and future plans?

 Jim: Right now it is a significant issue.  We have a 3 percent hold back on our budget for FY 02 and we're going to have to figure out how to cut that 3 percent out of our budget for athletics. The challenge is we are already half way through the year. Right now we have everything on the table evaluating what we think is fat as well as the items others might think is fat.  We need to determine what we can cut out between now and June 30 so we come in with a balanced budget.  That is not going to come without some pain and some blood. I can't get into any real specifics right now because I'm not at liberty to share those details, but I can tell you there are some things we are looking at that probably affects things more externally in terms of what we're doing than rather than internally in specific sports.   We have what we call four priority sports; football, volleyball and men's and women's basketball so we have fully funded them in whatever they do. In the other sports for example, men's golf, say that the NCAA only allows 6  scholarships. We only fund four. Maybe for tennis we fund only four scholarships as well so we're not fully funding all of our programs to the maximum extent but we are fully funding four sports we designate as priority sports. So we are trying to keep from affecting the priority sports.  We've got the issue of FY 02 and then we turn around and have a 10% reduction in our budget in FY 03 which for us is a significant amount of money and once again we are doing what we have to for this fiscal year but now we have to cut out $500,000 from next years budget and that's where we're really going to have to be creative.  At least we know going into the budget process we need to make significant cuts.  That should allow us to spread the cuts out over more areas thus not creating a significant problem for any one area of the department.  The good news is this process is going to make us think and act outside the box with regard to how we do business.  We can get leaner and provide more value for our donors and fans. So, playing the Oregon's and Washington's over the next 2 to 3 seasons might take some of the edge off of the budget cuts because they tend to be big payouts?

Jim:  Absolutely, but you have to realize we are trying to reduce the number of these money games.  What we need to do to build the infrastructure of athletics and that starts with the facilities and scholarships and season ticket sales. It's a vicious circle, you have to win to sell tickets but we have to sell tickets, improve facilities and raise scholarships get out of these money games. So which comes first the chicken or the egg? A lot of people out there are probably waiting for a 10 and 1 season but you know what? There are a lot of successful programs out there that had to build facilities, and improve season ticket sales before they became successful. People are confused.  They think it happens the other way around; you win first and we will come; no, no that's not how it works!  There is no difference than what we are doing [building the infrastructure: buildings, tickets and scholarships] but we need more people engaged in the process.  We have thousands of people on the sidelines. They are on the sidelines, they're not in the game but we have to say hey, we need you! We need you to get in the game! At whatever level you can do. If that's  $250 for the Coaches Club that's great. If you buying season tickets and you go to one game great! Whatever it is, we need people to get into the game.  What we have to understand is that when State budget cuts are offset by student fee increases of 10% we have an exponential increase of expenses. Of the several ways to donate to Idaho athletics, which will move the program forward the most and what are they in priority order?

Jim: It's not really easy to say this one thing is more important than another. I can tell you that there are three things that are critical to us over the next two years for us to accomplish. Number one: raise more annual income. That means signing up more new memberships to the VSF. It is one of the three things that is critical.  It's got to go up 10% over the next 5 years plus, when you get the 2004 season we are going to have to add another sport if we want to meet the upcoming new membership criteria in division 1A, which will add another 20 or so scholarships.  It will probably be another $300,000 to $500,000 increase to in our budget, once again that is for gender equity, which is the main issue driving the need for more money in athletics today.  This is a huge way for us to move forward and be competitive. The second thing would be for a person to buy season tickets.  Buying tickets is important because we can count you whether you show up or not.  If the NCAA legislation goes through, and it appears it will, then the new division 1A requirement will require you to have 5 division 1A home games and you have to average 15,000 people. End of story.  They'll take away the stadium restriction where you have a 30K stadium and that gives us a little flexibility in what we do. So as were building our season ticket base and we need to get to 5000 season ticket holders by 2005 as well. It's not only buy 2 season tickets, but it's also we need you to buy 2 season tickets and come to a game or two or three or all of them.  If you can't make five home games, make three have somebody come in your place and if you can't do that then donate the tickets back to us and we'll find someone to go to the game. To sum it up, giving to the VSF, buying season tickets/coming to the games. You've got to come to the games. The Twelfth Man program helped us to get the NCAA attendance requirement done but the NCAA is saying why are we giving people an out by selling discounted tickets? Let's make them put bodies in the stands and make them a viable program. The third thing, which I believe will have the biggest impact whether we win or lose in the immediate future, is getting the Vandal Athletic Center (VAC) completed.  This helps all 15 sports we have right now.  It will allow us to be competitive with regard to facilities and right now it is our greatest liability as we recruit. It's not just that you have a good coach in a particular sport it is the fact we do not have the tools to sell.  It would be like you [Vandal88] trying to do your job without a computer. You could say you are in the computer industry but you don't have a computer to work on and you can't convince me to come work for you because I'm not going to have a computer to work on. That's what the challenge is. While we have sat around and beat our chest about Vandal athletics and how good the Vandals were and are, you know, beating the Broncos 12 years in a row, they were building the infrastructure and the athletic facilities they needed. I'm not saying all of our problems are tied just to facilities, but I am telling you that it is the number one deterrent in us signing good players and keeping good coaches. If you're [Vandal88] livelihood is based on a computer to do your job and we won't give you a computer to do your job but we're still going to hold you accountable what are you going to do? You're going to get the heck out of here, aren't you? What goals do we need to meet before the UI officially starts talking about plans for a new outdoor stadium?

Jim: You know what? I really don't know if I could tell you exactly what that is. I think it is a great question. I know this. We have to finish the VAC. It's the number one thing in facilities we have to address. The second issue is we have to grow our VSF to 5,000 members. Let me tell you why that is imperative. The rule of thumb in a capital campaign is that a donor will give 10 to 20 times their annual gift.  If I am a $1,000 donor to the VSF today then I would be a prospect for a ten to twenty thousand donation to the VAC. We have approximately 2500 donors right now who are giving right about 1 million dollars. So our goal is to raise 10 million dollars of private money for the VAC.  This is the first capital campaign we have ever done and it's a growth process for people who already give say $1,000 and now you want more money spread out over a five year period? So now you want somebody who  already gives $1,000 to increase his or her annual donation to $3,000 ($1,000 for the VSF and 2,000 for the VAC over 5 years). That's what we need you to do. That's when the rubber hits the road. We need to finish the VAC, which means we need 5 million more in pledges and gifts.  By increasing our VSF memberships to 5,000 people we should be bring in annual totals in excess of 2 million and that gives you a donor base for a stadium campaign of 20-40 million.  The cost of a stadium is debated among our fans and I would be shocked if you could build one for less that 40 million based on what I have seen.  That does two things, number one it gives us more money to pay for the scholarships and gives us a bigger prospect base to go out after and have 3 to 5 prospects [large donors] at every gift level.In addition to the 10/20 rule we know that 80% of the money for capital campaigns comes from 20% of the donors.  In other words if we can't close gifts in the upper 1/3 of the gift range chart we don't have a realistic chance to complete the project.  The University would not even let us undertake a stadium project unless we have leadership gifts in place.  No matter how many $1,000 gifts are given we couldn't make the campaign viable. How can help?

Jim: I think the very thing you are trying to do right here is great.   Articulate what we need to get done. Unfortunately, it's real easy for people to be negative when they don't understand what you are trying to accomplish. People are just misinformed in so many ways. I think people want to help but they really don't know how. They complain about stuff without really understanding the limitations and issues. There are some people, regardless of what information we have to share with them, really don't want to hear it. They say I'm a Vandal through and through but they really don't want to engage in meaningful discussion based on the leadership we have in place to make a difference, i.e. "getting into the game!"  They're on the sidelines and they don't want to get into the game.  They want to critique and complain. They're part of the problem, not the solution. We need the to address these issues and keep telling the right story. Who and what numbers do people need to call to donate?

Jim: They can call the VSF office and we will have the staff person in charge of their area contact them.  Here are the people. Willie Alderson his phone number is (208)-885-0230 California and all of Oregon and Western Washington. Pete Isakson does North Idaho (Grangeville north) and all of Eastern Washington. His number is 208-885-0258. I [Jim Senter] have Southern Idaho (Riggins south) and all the rest of the United States.  My number is (208)-885-0252 in Moscow and 208-364-4027 in Boise.

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