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Penn State Athletics: As Expenses Grow, Kraft Still Committed to 31 Sports at Penn State

In the face of growing spending for Penn State athletics and athletic departments across the nation, Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Pat Kraft is committed to keeping all 31 varsity sports programs, he told last week.

“What I always tell people is the football [and] basketball, is the national brand national piece,” Kraft said. “Our Olympic sports, especially here where you’re uber competitive — think 22 of our teams made the NCAA this year in the postseason — they build our culture, they build the community. Now when you reach a wrestling status like we have, we’re the best in a world that’s a national story. OK, they built that one into national notoriety. But like our men’s lacrosse team goes to the Final Four last year, what men’s and women’s hockey do, like that helps build your 760,000 alum community to grow and to be excited.

“I think there’s real great value in having 31 and if you look at our history in fencing, women’s volleyball, what we’ve been able to do in hockey and lacrosse, track and field, there’s real value in that. Now. I think we it’s gonna come down to how we adjust financially and how we travel and how we do certain things. But we’re fully committed to the 31.”

A commitment to 31 Division I sports is an interesting challenge for an athletic department like Penn State which has found no small part of its identity centered around a diverse and deep athletic department. On the one hand it has always been part of the fabric that makes Penn State what it is, on the other hand collegiate athletics are not as lucrative of a venture as they might appear. Excluding Penn State football and men’s basketball, every single sport that Penn State fields posted more expenses than revenues in the most recent fiscal year, something that has been true for the better part of forever. Even wrestling landed on the wrong side of the ledger, posting $3.2 million in revenues while coming up just shy of $4 million in expenses.

At face value it’s not much of a surprise. Most sports require more game-to-game and seasonal costs than the limited areas where the money comes back in. It’s not a sign of a poorly run athletic department than say, swimming, something of a staple at most colleges, doesn’t make more money than it spends. That’s just how it goes.

This challenge isn’t unique to Penn State, but compared to Alabama and Georgia, athletic departments that field 15 and 20 sports respectively, the amount of football revenue that can simply go back into the football program, Name Image and Likeness ventures and infrastructure upgrades is inherently greater.

Then again there is the other side of the coin, Ohio State joining Penn State with a robust 30+ team athletic department. While many of the details of each department might be different, the costs of expanding conferences, revenue sharing with student-athletes (a figure that should hit around $22 million annually) and other needed investments will only increase spending needs and revenue demands. While cutting off a few hundred thousand from bloating budgets might not stem the tide, it is an obvious option on the table — one that athletic departments across the nation have faced for years now.

So to keep all those teams it comes down to the little things like travel and hirings. How travel budget square with a newly expanded, coast-to-coast footprint remains to be seen. Nevertheless, only $3 million of the departments’ $10.7 million travel budget was dedicated to football and men’s basketball, according to the most recent fiscal year reports.

“How do you attack hiring smarter and utilize scheduling and this is where everybody’s looking at it right?” Kraft added. “How do we look at, number one, providing the best experience in the country for our student athletes, but [also] you probably don’t need to go and fly across country 100 times. There’s enough locally that we can go do it. So it is changing the way we look at how we schedule and prepare ourselves for the [postseason] … the other thing that I think is really positive for us is our philanthropic support, and how that will continue to help us in a lot of places. That’ll help our individual programs drive where they can go.”

If Kraft can keep his word remains to be seen, but as media rights continue to grow and the world of college athletics continues to change, it would appears there’s no fire alarm to pull just yet.