Southern Oregon's football team took home the national title in 2014, and even before that, the athletic department as a whole started to make regular appearances in their respective post season tournaments. Since 2010 the football, men's and women's cross country teams, women's soccer and volleyball, wrestling, men's and women's basketball, and men's and women's indoor track and field have all made the post season, and many have made national title appearances.
The past two seasons alone have seen the football team play in the national title game, and the brought home the program's first title in 2014 and finished runner-up last season. With the title game being played in Florida, and their games during the regular season taking place in Montana (5 games) and Idaho (1 game) with just one game within Oregon state borders (Eastern Oregon) the costs for travel alone for the football program add up in a hurry.
Combine that with the men's and women's basketball teams in the NAIA title game in Missouri this week, eight members of the wrestling team in Kansas for their national championship, and a number of track and field athletes in Tennessee for the NAIA Indoor Track and Field Championships, and you can see where this is headed.
Despite, or perhaps BECAUSE of, all that post season success, the athletics department at Southern Oregon is facing a $1.2 million deficit, and trips to the playoffs are costing the school about $500,000 a year. At the small college level especially, finding the funding for all of these post season trips that students have worked so hard for can be a difficult issue.
“It’s a dilemma. You’ve got these great teams and we’re trying to find a mechanism to fund our post-season travel with. It doesn’t work to say we’re just not going to the playoffs," athletic director Matt Sayre, who took over in 2010, explained to the Ashland Daily Tidings.
Sayre adds that expenses have skyrocketed in the past few years, noting that "since 2012, it's all gone off the charts." The university is just coming out on the other side from significant cuts to faculty, classes and majors that were supposed to save the school about $6 million annually.
There are clear cut advantages to the wide-ranging success of the athletics department though, as Daily Tidings points out. Student athletes are graduating at a rate that is almost 2 times as high as that of a traditional student, ticket sales have tripled in the last three years, and enrollment has been greatly improved.
Now the focus for SOU is on building some reserves (something they haven't had to do in the past) while paying off the deficit and turning their focus on improving the financial situation.
“In the big scheme of things, it’s not a large problem," associate VP of budgets and planning Mark Denney added. "It is one we haven’t experienced before because we haven’t had that type of success. I’m confident we’ll find a solution."
Give Southern Oregon some credit here for biting the bullet and facing the deficit head on. A lot of athletic departments would do the easy thing and cut some programs despite all of their success, in an effort to save money fast. But SOU clearly sees the value that their sports are providing to the student athletes, and the greater campus community, and is facing the issue responsibly with the kids being the top priority.