BOULDER – Losing to Montana State was a bummer for new Colorado-Boulder coach Dan Hawkins and his Buffaloes, but it was a nightmare for Hawkins’ boss.
Athletic director Mike Bohn has been swimming upstream since the moment he was hired 17 months ago – against a current of debt, poor ticket sales and the least-enthusiastic donor base in the Big 12 Conference.
He has cut jobs, terminated the men’s tennis program and organized an $8 million loan from the university just to get back to budgetary square one.
Bohn has made progress with donations, raising the bar more than 60 percent from the levels he found when he arrived, but CU-Boulder remains light years behind many of the programs with which it competes in the Big 12 in terms of donor funding.
Job one in improving the department’s financial position is selling seats to football games and earning as much exposure as possible on television because it’s a huge source of revenue.
Saturday’s loss in the school’s first meeting with a Division I-AA opponent might not have ripped the rug completely out from under those efforts, but it certainly didn’t help them. For instance, the Buffs’ game at No. 15 Georgia in 2 1/2 weeks once appeared to be a decent bet for national television. That’s no longer the case.
“I think that is yet to be seen,” Bohn said Monday when asked how the loss could impact his department. “Our fans and our supporters have been terrific, I think.”
“I think that’s the neat thing about athletic competition, it teaches you how to deal with adversity and losing. Our resolve will remain high and our competitive spirit and interest toward pulling everyone together with one common goal is in place and will remain in place,” he said.
The football team is the backbone of the department and provides most of the revenue used to support the other 15 men’s and women’s programs. When it’s in trouble, everyone is in trouble, which isn’t a very comforting thought these days for CU-Boulder coaches who have seen 25 percent of their budgets hacked in the past two fiscal years.
Bohn is still trying to find funding for a bubble to be used as a seasonal indoor facility for his programs and to share with the rest of campus. The department is still well short of the $2.5 million needed to fund the project despite receiving a single donation of $1.5 million months ago.
The hope is the project will be completed by October 2007.
Colorado will travel to Denver on Saturday for its annual meeting with Colorado State at Invesco Field. A win over the Rams could restore some momentum to Bohn and his efforts. A loss would make the mission even more difficult than it is today.
CU-Boulder already stands to lose $400,000 in revenue on the CSU game because the Mountain West Conference television package doesn’t meet the minimum standards of the Big 12 to qualify as a national television broadcast. Big 12 members are paid $400,000 from the conference for nationally televised non-conference games.
The Mountain West claims it is a national broadcast because CSTV is available in more than 50 million homes. The reality is no more than 15 million of those homes actually have subscriptions that include the fledgling network.
Bohn is an eternal optimist when it comes to the challenges he faces, but there is talk among longtime fans and observers of the program about the possibility of the current five-game losing streak extending into double digits. Some believe the Buffs could be looking at an 0-5 start if they can’t beat the Rams.
They host No. 24 Arizona State in Week 3 before traveling to Georgia. In Week 5, Hawkins’ team will open Big 12 play on the road at Missouri, where the Buffs have traditionally struggled.
“The program is in good hands with coach Hawkins,” Bohn said. “We need to do everything we can to help build up the other elements outside of football.
“I’d like to believe that everybody associated with the program – the staff, the fans, boosters, the student body – that everybody understands the resolve we have toward building this program to a level of excellence.”