STARKVILLE — The historic step the NCAA took last week isn’t going to alter the course of the Mississippi State athletic department.
That’s the sentiment MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin shared earlier this week when he was asked about the 79-1 vote last week that paved the way to grant cost-of-attendance stipends to student-athletes in the Power Five conferences and any other Division I schools that choose to do so.
“It makes you wonder why it was never done that way to begin with,” Stricklin said. “The opportunity to provide miscellaneous expenses so we can cover the full cost of attendance for student-athletes is the right place to be.”
The Power Five (the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten Conference, the Big 12 Conference, the Pacific-12 Conference, and the Southeastern Conference) were part of orchestrating the first passage of autonomous legislation that will give student-athletes an estimated $2,000-$5,000 annually. The additional money is designed to help them cost-of-living expenses that fall outside the scope of athletic scholarships.
The decision and vote in Fort
Washington, Maryland, came after a long process in which last August the Division I Board of Governors granted autonomy to the Power Five conferences to create rules free of full NCAA membership. The schools that choose to enact the legislation can do so as early as the fall.
Stricklin doesn’t feel the cost of attendance will affect schools in the Power Five differently. He said it is his sense that all schools will offer the cost of attendance to its student-athletes. He said the numbers will be different throughout the nation, but he said at MSU all 210 athletic scholarships will be covered. He said there are more student-athletes on scholarship at the school than 210 because coaches split the scholarships, but he said those student-athletes will receive a portion of the cost of attendance that suits the size of their scholarship.
“The fact that we finally have the autonomy to enact something like this is, I think, is the reason it is here. It is why we are in the position we are in,” Stricklin said. “It’s not an insignificant expense. It will be over a million dollars in new expenses to our budget. That is pretty significant. There are not many things we do that add a million dollars that what we’re spending on a year-to-year basis. It is still the right thing to do, but it is something we will have to accommodate in our budget.
“The good thing is the timing with our expected new revenue from the SEC Network really is beneficial, where we’re not having to come up with this money. We actually have some new revenue coming in that we anticipate we will be able to direct that way.”
Stricklin said the conference members likely will find out what the amount of their payout from the SEC Network in late May at the annual SEC meetings. He said he anticipates there will be some revenue from the SEC Network deal in this fiscal year, and that the money will be budgeted for Fiscal Year 2016, the first year for the cost of attendance for student-athletes. In 2013, the SEC announced a 20-year deal for the SEC Network. The deal was a 10-year extension of ESPN’s existing SEC deal. The original contract, signed in 2008, guaranteed the SEC $2.25 billion over 15 years, according to The New York Times.
Stricklin also said MSU will find out in May how much it will receive from the payouts to SEC’s teams for their appearances in bowl games. He said that figure likely will go up from last season, and that the increase already had been projected into the budget.
“Ideally in budgeting, you budget on the conservative side for revenue and you try to budget on the aggressive side for expenses and make sure you are balanced,” Stricklin said. “If the revenues come in better than you expect and you are disciplined on the expenditure side, you have a little bit of money left at the end of the year. If you look at the last few years, we have done a pretty good job of that. The reason you want to have a positive fund balance at the end of the year isn’t so (MSU Executive Associate AD) Duncan McKenzie and myself can pat ourselves on the back. It is so we can have some money that we then can then turn and put into some of these special projects that we think make an impact, whether it is a new video board at the Hump, or resurfacing a football practice field, or resurfacing tennis courts. Some of those projects we budget for during the year, but, a lot of the times, it is by being fiscally responsible during the year you have some money left at the end of the year that you can turn around and put back into your program.”
Stricklin said MSU has been careful not to spend money it envisions getting from the SEC Network before it comes in. He said the athletic department will have to continue to be patient and disciplined. He said there hasn’t been a lot of planning or guessing as to how much money MSU will receive. He believes it will be a “really nice boost” to the school’s bottom line, so he said the athletic department will have to prioritize where the money goes after covering the cost of attendance expenses.
Stricklin said the school has a list of issues to address and projects to take of, including a new contract for football coach Dan Mullen. He said he hopes to use some SEC Network money to go to that.
Stricklin said the athletic department also will have to educate its student-athletes on how to manage the stipend so they don’t spend it all in one week and are left wanting for the rest of the semester. He said the athletic department hasn’t had a lot of conversations about that topic with its student-athletes.
With so many things on the athletic department’s wish list, Stricklin said discipline remains a key as it moves forward.
“Football’s success this year is a great reminder we don’t need to lose sight of who we are just because we have had some success, and that it is really important to stay true to the things that have led you to where you are,” Stricklin said. “There is no question that being fiscally responsible, relatively speaking, has served us well. We have invested our money wisely, and we do have resources.”
The MSU football team (10-3) earned its highest finish in The Associated Press poll (No. 11) since 1940. It also tied its highest finish in the Amway Coaches poll (USA Today) at No. 12.
MSU, which won 10 regular-season games for the first time in school history, also spent five consecutive weeks atop the polls and closed the year in the top 15 of the rankings for the final 13 weeks. The Bulldogs also shattered 29 individual and team single-season records with the most prolific offense in school history.
Stricklin said MSU doesn’t have the resources compared to other schools in the SEC. But he said the point isn’t to stack budgets against budgets. Instead, he said the athletic department has to keep investing its money wisely, to stay “reasonable” with its expenses, and to make sure it isn’t spending all of its money at once.
The competitiveness of the SEC makes that a challenge, Stricklin said.
“The public just wants to win,” Stricklin said. “They don’t care if we are fiscally responsible or not. They just want us to win. The fact of the matter is there are too many people who love the university and are investing in our success for us not to be good stewards with those resources, and to make sure the university is protected and we’re making investments that are sustainable.”
In examining other possible revenue streams, Stricklin said it is “hard to imagine” sports like softball, women’s soccer, and volleyball could be revenue generators for the athletic department. He said the baseball team, which advanced to the championship series of the College World Series in 2013, doesn’t break even. He said it “doesn’t make sense” to try to cut costs for baseball to try to break even in that sport because MSU is committed to being one of the best programs in the nation.
As for softball, Stricklin praised coach Vann Stuedeman for guiding the program to three-straight NCAA tournaments. He said the team has had success in a “less-than-ideal facility” that the athletic department plans to fix and upgrade.
With so many things on his plate and so many financial variables to consider, Stricklin said his job isn’t going to change with additional cost of attendance expenses, bigger bowl payouts, or a windfall from the SEC Network. He said MSU needs to stay committed to an approach that has served it well in his nearly five years as athletic director.
“I don’t think any of us have become drunken sailors overnight throwing our money around willy nilly,” Stricklin said. “Most of the people we are competing with are getting the same new resources, especially in the SEC where the Network is concerned. It is really important we understand we have to use our money to put our coaches and student-athletes in the best position possible to be successful, and that it can’t just be about the size of our budget. If it is just about the size of our budget, that is not good for us. We have to make sure we manage those resources so the other things, like toughness, accountability, discipline, and ability, are what really impact the outcome of the game, not the dollar signs.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.