Oregon State is no longer consider cutting sports programs, according to DeCarolis, but the athletic department still faces major challenges as it walks a fine line between maintaining a $47 million budget and staying competitive in the Pacific-10 Conference.
There's still uncertainty, no doubt about it. The free fall has stopped but I think it's going to be a challenge.
Good, but not great, attendance at the first four of six Beaver home football games was particularly frustrating to DeCarolis.
I've never seen a state like this, where it's one or the other, you're a Duck or you're a Beaver. Well, if (OSU alumni) are so proud of that, why is it so hard to keep this thing going? We have a hell of a football product -- a hell of a football product -- and we can't sell out the stadium? Where are all the Beaver fans?
DeCarolis was referring to the decline in attendance this year, where all four games have seen smaller crowds than any of last year's six games, when attendance averaged 44,930 fans in Reser Stadium, which has a capacity of 45,674. With a smallest crowd of 41,679 for the opener against Portland St., only the Arizona game topped 42,000, with a turnout of 42,119.
This year's average of 41,922 is eighth in the Pac-10.
Disappointing attendance is critical since football is the athletic department's major revenue driver, and with five bowl wins in the last six years, Oregon State's inability to sell out games is noteworthy. DeCarolis noted projections now show a $300,000 gap in ticket sales from what was originally in the budget.
Numbers aren't strong in the fund-raising area, either, where De Carolis said the department is about $1 million down from the prior year. De Carolis had previously announced a push to increase the donor base from 6,700 to 12,000 by 2012, and while that drive is still just getting started, DeCarolis again emphasized the effort will be aggressive.
Donations to the Beaver Athletic Scholarship Fund go toward all 17 sports in the athletic department, and gifts and football ticket revenue make up 40 percent of the department's annual budget.
De Carolis said the campaign to grow the donor base will target the thousands and thousands of Oregon State alumni who have yet to donate, many of whom have yet to be contacted. De Carolis cited the example of Roseburg, where about 800 alumni live, but only 49 are donors.
We're doing all the right things, and we're winning. You should want that to continue because you're a Beaver. That's the mind-set we have to get across, and that's a challenge. There are 135,000 alumni who are not investing in our program. We have to get some of them, and we think we can.
In the short term, an estimated $3.5 million gap between what the athletic department budget and its actual revenue must be made up. De Carolis said getting the last two football home games picked up for TV would be one way to help with that. He also indicated revising the pricing of some areas of Reser Stadium to generate more revenue is being considered.
DeCarolis also explained that no one is exempt from salary freezes and potential pay cuts, himself included. Like all state employees, a year-long freeze on increases, plus a varying number of unpaid furlough days, applies to all employees.
There has also been discussion of football coaches giving back a percentage of their year-end bonuses.
There is a number in mind that we've got to get to.
De Carolis, speaking specifically of football budget cuts, noted that he and head coach Mike Riley have discussed how much could be trimmed without hurting on the field performance.
One method to stem the financial bleeding is to schedule "payoff" games, where Oregon St. plays a road game with a substantial payout, usually against a very difficult to beat opponent, and with no return game in the deal. However, De Carolis ruled that out for the time being.
Penn State did call us, and said, 'We know you need the money.' But we're not interested in that.
Oregon St. traveled to Penn State for the second game of the 2008 season, and the Beavers lost 45-14. The stunning defeat was the price paid for a nearly $1 million guarantee from Penn State for making the trip.
In the foreseeable future, Oregon St. has worked to set up home and home arrangements, and have such exchanges in the works with Boise St., Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The third non-conference game the Pac-10 schedule affords will often be a payout game the Beavers host, such as next year's visit from Eastern Washington.
Despite its budgetary concerns, Oregon St. is moving ahead with several improvement projects. De Carolis said the first feasibility meeting has been held about building a $15 million practice facility for the men's and women's basketball programs, a project deemed a high priority if the school wants to keep men's basketball coach Craig Robinson, who has been vocal about the need for one.
"This is very, very important," said De Carolis.
Mens' basketball coach Craig Robinson discusses plans with Athletic Director Bob DeCarolis.
The $15 million dollar total would provide two courts, one above the other, on the limited footprint area available behind the Sports Performance Training Center. The addition would be attached to the back of the Sports Performance Center.
We are looking at a court on top of a court. That's 28 feet per court tall. That's really four floors. That gives you four floors of offices, changing rooms and training area (to the side). That gives you an opportunity to keep an attractive entrance area for your pop. And you'll have four stories of graphic designs, photos. At night it's lit up, and you get the 'wow' factor.
DeCarolis said Oregon State is looking for several big donors to jump start the project, and that Robinson and womens' coach LaVonda Wagner both intend to help in the fund-raising effort.
Robinson has said he is confident the facility will get built, and that he wants his sister, first lady Michelle Obama, to be in Corvallis for the ribbon-cutting.