2009 Minnesota Associated Press Sports Association Sportswriting Contest
“The level of legwork was evident in the number of sources and source material cited, and the basic premise made for a worthwhile undertaking.”
(Note: These two in-depth reports explore Bemidji State’s transition to a premier Division I hockey conference and how it affects the rest of the Division II athletic program)
By Eric Stromgren
Pioneer sports Writer
Less than two weeks removed from one of the major announcements in Bemidji State University history, athletic director Rick Goeb talks with enthusiasm about the future of Beaver athletics.
The admission of the men’s hockey program into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association on June 26 was an instrumental step in saving the program. The move also stands to benefit Bemidji State’s NCAA Division II programs.
“I don’t know how we can talk about increasing Division II sports without talking about Division I hockey,” said Goeb, as he organized printouts of the Bemidji Regional Event Center in his office. “They are linked. The success of our hockey program and the revenue that’s brought in will help our Division II sports and that has been the plan.”
When the men’s hockey program makes the transition from John Glas Fieldhouse to the Bemidji Regional Event Center in 2010-11 for the first year of WCHA competition, revenues associated with the move will kick start the process of pumping more money into all 13 of Bemidji State’s Division II programs.
“We’re looking at an increase in ticket revenue in hockey, we’re looking at an increase in Beaver Pride membership … I think all that will help our Division II programs and our Division II sports,” said Goeb, who announced his intentions to competitively fund all programs during a press conference on June 29. “Because ultimately as we are already fully funded in hockey, this creates more revenue for Division II programs.”
Those benefits will come in the form of additional scholarship funding and team staffing, which can make all the difference between toptier and bottom-tier programs in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Where will the money come from?
As one of the smallest schools in the 14-team Northern Sun, BSU did not have the ability to competitively fund the Division II program when men’s hockey went Division I in 1999.
The WCHA and BREC will change that some.
Despite the country’s overall economic recession, the BSU athletic department will be working with increased funding over the next two years. Bemidji State’s athletic budget was $3.65 million in 2008-09, will increase to $3.94 million for the 2009-10 season and $4.2 million in 2010-11.
The Bemidji State men’s hockey budget each season is $850,000.
After men’s hockey went Division I, the university and athletic department had to put money into the program to keep it financially sustainable.
Bill Maki, Bemidji State’s vice president of finance and administration, said the university allocated between $450,000-$500,000 each season into men’s hockey to meet the $850,000 budget prior to the 2008-09 season.
Maki noted men’s hockey became solvent last season partly due to the presale of BREC rink suites. All 25 suites were sold with a commitment of $60,000 each.
Getting men’s hockey to break even was one step in improving the overall funding position of the athletic program. Securing admission to the WCHA and working with community leaders to build the BREC was another part of the process.
“The difference of the men’s program playing the WCHA and the BREC is that there will be much more opportunity for revenue,” Maki said.
Maki cited that BSU men’s hockey in the John Glas Fieldhouse brought in ticket proceeds of about $250,000 last season.
Maki said that ticket proceeds in the BREC will net $375,000 to $600,000 per year.
That figure does not include expected advertising revenue from sales of the dasher boards, merchandise in the arena and naming rights for the BSU exclusive areas.
Men’s hockey operating costs will not change dramatically, but the savings in travel costs is notable.
Playing in the College Hockey America conference, Bemidji State is required to travel via airplane to rural New York, Alabama and Pennsylvania at least once a season for league games.
By switching to the WCHA, Goeb said BSU will fly only to league road games at Colorado College (Colorado Springs), Denver University and Alaska-Anchorage. Goeb said Anchorage provides a subsidy of airline tickets for WCHA games played in Anchorage.
The decrease in air travel alone will save the BSU athletic department $40,000 to $50,000 per year, which will initially help pay the admission fee to the WCHA.
“There is an entry fee into the WCHA, but much of it will be covered by the savings we will realize in travel expenses by being part of a conference that is a geographic fit for us,” Maki said. “We also have a waiting period to share in postseason WCHA revenue, but since we have no revenue in this area now it will be a new source for us in the future.”
The admission fee for both Bemidji State and expansion partner Nebraska-Omaha has yet to be released.
Goeb and Maki declined to disclose that admission fee for this report.
When Minnesota State-Mankato joined the WCHA in 1999-2000, that program paid an admission fee of $120,000 over three years according to a recent report by the Mankato Free Press.
Following a three-year waiting period, Bemidji State will share postseason revenue from the lucrative Final Five playoff tournament in St. Paul.
“We are following the protocol and we won’t be sharing in the WCHA profits,” Goeb said. “But we didn’t get a profit in the CHA so it will be as if we are in the CHA for the first three years … after three years we will be sharing in the WCHA revenue (from the Final Five). That’s going to be significant to help our programs. They have done very well in profit sharing.”
According to WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod, each of the 10 WCHA member teams received $91,000 from the 2009 Final Five.
That revenue stream will come in one year faster than expected and will also be an advantage for Bemidji State athletics.
“The WCHA came out with a statement that said the ‘11-12 season was the year they were looking for us getting in,” Goeb said. “Now it’s ‘10-11, which is amazing … As soon as the conference ends in the CHA we are sliding right into the WCHA. It couldn’t have been any better. I’m not sure if that was the intent of some of the ADs.”
The Northern Sun follows Division II rules in limiting each member institution to a maximum of 90 scholarships split evenly between men’s and women’s programs.
Bemidji State’s move into the WCHA and the BREC will not generate enough revenue to fund all 90 scholarships. Goeb is hopeful gaps in funding each year will be bridged by alumni contributions and Beaver Pride with the ultimate goal of funding all 90 scholarships.
“I think we’re doing a great job with that, we’re increasing our scholarships at a pace when the economy is a little bit difficult right now, but we’re still able to do that because of our loyal alums,” Goeb said.
Goeb credited the men’s football program with the strongest alumni fundraising campaign in the athletic department. He said the main reason for its success is the efforts spearheaded by head football coach Jeff Tesch, who is entering his 13th season with Bemidji State.
It has been a struggle to get similar programs off the ground in other sports primarily due to coaching turnover, though Goeb said the athletic department is committed to continual development of fundraising programs.
For now, Beaver Pride is the major fundraising arm for BSU athletics and is expected to be a major contributor in coming years along with men’s hockey. Goeb is hopeful Beaver Pride membership will increase leading into the transition to the BREC and beyond.
“The best seats in the house are right on the center line up on top and you can have that,” Goeb said. “Of course you are going to need to be Beaver Pride member. That’s how Beaver Pride is going to get increased. People will want to be part of Beaver Pride, people are going to want to join Beaver Pride. You’re going to get better seats if you are a Beaver Pride member. There’s going to be benefits to be in Beaver Pride and it’s not just hockey.”
Season ticket priority starting for the first men’s hockey season at the BREC will be determined by the Beaver Pride Priority Points System.
Points are acquired in the system through a number of categories: current level of Beaver Pride, lifetime contributions to BSU athletics and BSU, volunteer service for BSU athletics, the support of the move to Division I hockey in 1999 and years of season tickets to BSU hockey. BSU alumni and BSU athletic alumni also gain points.
The tentative seating chart for the BREC has the Beaver Pride section in the optimal viewing area between the blue lines on both sides of the rink bowl. When the time comes to select seats, those with the highest amount of points in the Beaver Pride system will select their seats first. Season tickets are then made available to the public after that list is exhausted.
This type of system is common in Division I collegiate athletics. The University of Minnesota used a similar system in determining seating priority for the new home of Gophers football at TCF Stadium this fall.
“We’ve looked at every possible scenario across the country,” Goeb said. “We’ve looked at every school, what do they charge? How do they do their seating? You have to do your homework and I think we’ve done that and put together a solid plan. Its not finalized by no means but we’re going to try and take care of families, we’re going to try and take care of the students, we want to take care of the public, the alumni – we want to take care of all these different entities and we’re providing seating areas for them.”
Beaver Pride member benefits include season tickets to other Bemidji State sporting events and reduced membership to Gillett Recreation Center. The base level of Beaver Pride for 2009 costs $150-$299 and includes one season ticket to all Division II and women’s hockey home games. For 2009, the Beaver Pride captain level ($600-$1,199) buys one men’s hockey season ticket, one Gillett coupon and two season tickets to all Division II and women’s hockey home games.
“We’re going to really encourage the Beaver Pride membership because that helps our overall athletic program,” Goeb said.
Beaver Pride will go from a dispersal budget of about $300,000 to more than $400,000 with the move to the WCHA and BREC. Goeb is hoping that Beaver Pride can get to a funding level of $800,000 in the coming years.
“That’s our goal in Beaver Pride and I really believe that can happen,” Goeb said.
Moving Forward: Part II
By Eric Stromgren
Pioneer Sports Writer
When athletic director Rick Goeb arrived at Bemidji State eight years ago, the men’s hockey team was in NCAA Division I infancy and the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference was one of the weaker leagues in Division II.
Fast forward to 2009 and Bemidji State is one year from becoming a full member of the prestigious Western Collegiate Hockey Association and the Northern Sun has developed into arguably the premier Division II league in America.
“There’s been more change than ever in our landscape. It’s amazing,” Goeb said. “We’re going to be a different athletic program and maybe a different university. But we are definitely changing and just look at how far we’ve come.”
Bemidji State’s acceptance into the WCHA and eventual transition to the Bemidji Regional Event Center will bring in additional revenue for the university starting as soon as 2010-11.
Goeb has pledged administrative support to competitively fund all programs and is hoping to work in tandem with alumni and Beaver Pride to give the Division II programs a better chance at winning NSIC championships.
Reaching that level will take time.
Scholarships and the Northern Sun
The 14-team NSIC turned into an ultra-competitive league last season when the North Central Conference folded and it absorbed four large-enrollment schools – Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, Augustana and Minnesota State-Mankato. All but Augustana are members of the WCHA.
Athletic budgets can be generally compared to the size of the institution. The more students, the bigger the budgets and the more available opportunities there are to generate alumni contributions.
St. Cloud State has an enrollment of some 15,000 students while Bemidji State has about 5,000.
“When you take a program, like for example St. Cloud, they are a pretty good-sized school and a pretty goodsized athletic program,” Goeb said. “We may not be able to be at the exact same level in everything but we believe we’re going to be able to move forward substantially because of everything that’s happening with our program, because of the Bemidji Regional Event Center, because of getting into the WCHA and because the Division II sports has also gained notoriety by adding these new programs.”
With more money to work with, there are more scholarships to offer and in turn, better athletes to attract and create better teams. The standings in every NSIC sport often are reflective of the amount of funding athletic programs receive.
Those funding lines are noticeable in the major team sports: football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball. Those sports along with men’s and women’s hockey are also deemed the primary funding priorities set by the Bemidji State Intercollegiate Faculty Organization.
The NCAA limits each Division II institution to 90 scholarships (45 for men’s programs and 45 for women’s programs). Within that number, there are set limits for each sport. The NSIC limits a maximum 24 scholarships to football and abides by the NCAA limits of 10 each for basketball and eight for volleyball.
Bemidji State is not fully funded on a scholarship level in any sport other than men’s and women’s hockey. That is not unusual in the NSIC as no program is fully funded to its full complement of 90 scholarships.
Snapshot of BSU’s programs
Bemidji State’s funding priority programs are behind the rest of the Northern Sun in scholarship levels.
In football, Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch estimates he will be working with 16 or 17 scholarships next season.
He characterized that number as in the bottom third of the NSIC and noted Duluth, St. Cloud, Augustana, Mankato, Wayne State, Winona State and Upper Iowa are fully funded at 24 scholarships.
Duluth, Mankato and Wayne State reached the 24-team Division II tournament last season. Duluth won the national championship.
Bemidji State finished 4-6 in NSIC play last season and has never reached the national tournament.
“We need more scholarships, there’s no doubt about it,” Tesch said. “The difference between us and sports like basketball or volleyball is that we just need so many. Those sports can sometimes win with one or two good players. But we’re making progress.”
Tesch became proactive over the last few years in reconnecting with alumni to develop a fundraising campaign. It has worked as Bemidji State football has grown from a level of 13 scholarships in 2006.
“We knew if we wanted to stay afloat we couldn’t wait for the BREC or the alumni to come around,” Tesch said. “We’ve got a good program in line and it just started with some phone calls because some just didn’t know how to give back.”
For Laurie Bitter’s volleyball program, developing a competitive team has been a challenge. Bitter is entering her third season as head coach with an overall record of 17-42 at BSU.
“We need it (funding) because we play in the toughest conference in the country,” Bitter said. “We’ve produced national champions (Concordia-St. Paul) two years in a row. That’s what makes it tough because we’re playing in the toughest conference and we’re probably the lowest-funded program. That’s why going to the WCHA is huge because it has the chance for us to equal the playing field a little bit.”
Bitter said she will be working with about 3.5 scholarships next season and that amount makes recruiting top players a difficult task.
“It’s tough to bring them here and say that I’ve got nothing to offer them until some other players graduate and scholarships open up. There’s only so much to split up and I just tell them that this is a great place to be and if they work hard they can maybe eventually get a small ride or a full ride,” Bitter said. “Their parents spend a lot of money growing up in hopes of a kickback when getting to college. The better kids want the scholarships.”
Head men’s basketball coach Matt Bowen is entering his fourth season at Bemidji State. He began a major rebuilding process in 2006-07 and brought stability to the program by recruiting Minnesota athletes. The win total each season has improved since he took over but .500 has been an elusive mark.
Bowen is 19-63 at BSU and currently works with six scholarships. He said that the majority of NSIC schools are working with nine or more scholarships.
“It’s a player’s game – I need players who can score and defend and you’re only as good as your talent level,” Bowen said. “When you have a small scholarship pool, your depth is shallow as well. Extra players make better practices and better teams.”
NSIC men’s basketball is also producing national champions. Winona State has won two of the last four national titles and Southwest Minnesota State reached the round of eight last season.
“As a Division II program, any little bit (of funding) helps because when you start out from nothing you can only go up and move forward,” Bowen said.
Bowen refused to make any excuses or rationalizations for the struggles the men’s basketball program faces in the NSIC.
“None of this comes to a surprise to anyone who took a job here,” Bowen said. “We can use Division I hockey now in the same way large schools use Division I football per se. It was understood when taking this job that we needed to get hockey where it needed to be and concessions would have to be made. There just isn’t enough to go around. You have to give credit to Rick Goeb, (BSU president) Jon Quistgaard and (BSU men’s hockey coach) Tom Serratore. When I came here the WCHA and Event Center was just a dream. But they were able to break through all the negativity out there and keep on plugging away and now that day is here. This is a positive thing for our university.”
While additional revenue will benefit existing programs, Goeb said it will not create any new programs. Bemidji State had nationally competitive wrestling, swimming and cross country ski programs in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
The admission of BSU into the WCHA will also have no immediate effect on the men’s track program. The administration plans to cut the program after the upcoming season unless certain conditions are met.
“The goals still need to be met. We’re not going to deviate from that,” Goeb said. “Part of the goals are roster management, it was not just financial. So balancing our Title IX numbers — our men’s and women’s numbers — and we’re following through with that. We need proportionality with that and we’re going to get there.”
Title IX, the federal law that mandates equal participation opportunities between genders, will also guide administrative plans in dispersing future revenue.
“We’re not going to hold a sport back,” Goeb said. “If a sport can bring in some funding we want to do everything to honor that request,” Goeb said. “Obviously we have to abide by Title IX – gender equity – so we do have considerations as money comes in … we want to filter that to that sport. If alumni says, ‘look we’re going to support a program, we want this program to get more scholarships’ we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”
Bemidji State’s move to the BREC will also open an opportunity for Bemidji State to improve athletic facilities. Goeb said there are plans in store to convert John Glas Fieldhouse into an all-season training building by installing artificial turf, adding weight equipment and storage space. There is no specific remodeling date planned for The Glas.
“We’re a different program now,” Goeb said. “We have to be and we have to address it that way. In order for us to compete and have success our fundraising plan has to change and it is changing for the better. … Ultimately we certainly want to compete for national titles. Right now in the NSIC if you can win a conference championship, you’ve got a darn good shot at winning a national title. You can say the same thing about the WCHA. If you win the WCHA you’ve got a pretty good shot of being competitive in the national tournament as well and that’s the direction we’re going.”