Coaching Boise State: How Boise State Athletics spends students’ Tuition Dollars

Boise State students’ tuition contributes to some of the highest-paid salaries in the state. In 2019, four of the five highest-paid public employees in the state of Idaho were Boise State athletic coaches, according to Open The Books data. Former football Head Coach Bryan Harsin was paid $1,773,707.. 

The other three highest-paid employees were: Boise State men’s basketball Head Coach Leon Rice, who received $772,768; former Athletic Director Curt Apsey who received $455,481.93; and women’s basketball Head Coach Gordy Presnell who made $357,955. For comparison, Gov. Brad Little made $190,147 in 2019.

It is not common knowledge for most that head coaches are some of the highest-paid public employees in their respective states. Despite the misconception, 28 college football coaches and 12 college basketball coaches top the list of highest taxpayer-funded jobs.

According to Boise State’s 2021 fiscal year auxiliary budget book, the university plans on using $3,351,926 directly from student fees to supply its intercollegiate athletics fund. Boise State expects $9,831,968 in revenue from student fees in 2021. This does not include fees collected from other areas, such as housing or meal plans.

With fluctuating admission rates, Boise State seems to be exploring every financial avenue, even resorting to offering students a chance to put a cardboard cutout of themselves in the stands for $50. With the possibility of more financial hurdles on the horizon, the university has opted to go all-in on one of its biggest earners — Boise State Athletics.

Boise State finds money where it can

[Photo from the Mountain West championship game in 2019 with dollar bills imposed over Bryan Harsin, signifying the head coach position’ salary.]
Photo by Mackenzie Hudson; Graphic by Sarah Schmid | The Arbiter

Boise State only allowed fans at two of its four home football games during its 2020 season, losing out on hundreds of thousands in fan revenue. 

Fans are now allowed to attend the games since Feb. 17, when they announced their decision in a plan that has been reviewed by Central District Health. Fans must enter their names in a raffle due to limited tickets. Students who won the raffle had to produce a negative COVID-19 test 24 hours before the event. Loss of ticket sale revenue has hurt the university’s bottom line, which has become a major concern for university administrators considering there is no determined timeline as to when venues can move to maximum capacity.

According to Boise State President Marlene Tromp, the university is being asked to complete a 5% one-time hold-back for the fiscal year of 2021, equalling around $5.4 million.

The university, along with many local Boise businesses, lost out on some anticipated revenue when the NCAA announced that its March Madness Tournament would not be held in Boise this year. According to Carrie Westergard, executive director for the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau, Boise’s economy will lose out on a significant sum of money.

“The NCAA tournament was in 2018, and it looks like [Boise’s financial gain] was around $14.8 million. That is for the one event,” Westergard said. “In 2020, we hosted the Big Sky Conference, and that estimated economic impact was nearly $1 million with the conference ending mid-conference. If both of those events were to not happen in 2021, we would be looking at over $15.5 economic impact loss. The hospitality industry, everything from hotels, restaurants, transportation, retail, bars would be most affected if these events were to not take place, especially with the hard-hit the industry has received through COVID-19.” 

With the football season over and the basketball season coming to an end, Boise State will have missed out on the full potential of the only two sports that turn a profit. The university will have to wait until next fall to hope for the roughly $25 million that comes with the average football season in which fans can attend games.

Boise State decided to cut its baseball team, women’s swimming and diving programs last year due to the financial hardships caused by COVID-19. Cutting the programs saved the school approximately $2.3 million. In the spring 2020 semester, Boise State lost a total of $14 million in revenues. The school also permanently cut positions and furloughed employees.

“The pandemic has made a challenging financial situation unsustainable,” Tromp said. ”Ultimately, the reduction of the number of sports in which we compete allows Boise State a better chance of remaining competitive at the highest level, and provides a more realistic roadmap to a sustainable future for the university and athletic department.”

Graphic by Sarah Schmid | The Arbiter

When the Broncos won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Boise State received a $4.3 million payout from the Mountain West for representing the conference on the national stage. The university also saw a 40% jump in academic applications following the Fiesta Bowl publicity.

Now, with students balancing school both in-person and online, it does not stop Bronco athletics from paying large amounts of money to compete at the collegiate level.

Congress has recently passed a $900 billion stimulus package for small businesses, schools and childcare facilities in hopes of offsetting losses. Boise State will see $15.1 million of the stimulus package, according to Idahonews.

Boise State initiated the Elevate The Blue fundraiser with the purpose of helping the athletic program recover the losses it suffered from the pandemic and help pay for student-athlete scholarships. The fundraiser coupled with the school’s annual Giving Day in which over 880 donors from 39 states pledged more than $437,000 in a 36-hour time frame, Boise State was able to make up a fraction of its losses suffered throughout the pandemic. According to B.J. Rains and Margaret Carmel, reporters for the Idaho Press, Boise State projected a $12.2 million loss from ticket sales and seat contributions alone if the 2020 season was canceled.

Many different factors affected the Boise State budget, but no official numbers have come out stating what the total loss in revenue was for the university.

The cycle continues

On Jan. 11, Andy Avalos was hired to a five-year $7.75 million contract as head coach for Boise State football. The contract gave Avalos the title of the highest-paid public employee in Idaho. 

Avalos will make a salary of $1.4 million during his first year and after he will receive an annual raise of $75,000. The university will also provide Avalos with a vehicle, cover moving expenses and pay for spouse travel to all away games, as well as family travel to postseason bowl games.

“This is a dream come true, and a very humbling opportunity for myself and my family to be back in this program,” Avalos said. “I’m excited to get back around the players I have missed the last two years, and to provide an elite experience for all the young men in the Boise State football program. I can’t wait to get to work and help this program make our university, community and the state of Idaho proud by continuing to grow the blue-collar mentality that has been the staple of our program and allowed it to thrive for years.”

Boise State made another significant signing in January when the university announced that it would be hiring Jeramiah Dickey as its new athletic director. According to documents obtained by the Idaho Statesman through a public records request, Dickey is set to make $410,000 in 2021 and will receive an annual raise of at least 2% for the next five years until his contract is up. This contract puts him as the third highest-paid public employee in the state.

Dickey will be tasked with managing all aspects of Boise State’s athletic programs: hiring coaches, scheduling, budget preparation, promotion and fundraising. Along with the general responsibilities that come with the position, Dickey will also be responsible for helping the school rebound from its financial problems.

“I want to meet our donors and Bronco Nation,” Dickey said in a Jan. 4 press conference. “I’ve heard so many great things about them, and I can’t wait to get in front of them and outside of Zoom and technology, technology is crazy, as crazy as it is. I want to meet those that have very much impacted and built upon this foundation that has been built… My background is in fundraising and resource generation. And so whatever we don’t have, we will go out and get.”

During Avalos’s introductory press conference, he addressed how he felt about the resources being provided to Bronco athletics. 

“The vision and plan of the president and the new AD [athletic director], that inspired us to hear and learn about,” said Avalos. “As we worked through what it would look like for us (Avalos’s coaching staff) to help and come be a part of this team. The leadership was great as we worked through certain numbers, understanding the financial difficulties that come from the year of COVID-19 and the ramifications on many different areas.”

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