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Sterk talks Mizzou budget, Martin contract


Prior to Missouri’s basketball game against Ole Miss on Tuesday, athletics director Jim Sterk met with local reporters for his first in-person press conference in nearly a year, since the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly curtailed the SEC basketball tournament. Sterk offered a state of the department address of sorts, touching on the statuses of several sports and noting that, due to COVID-19 impacting schedules, 19 of Missouri’s 20 teams would play a game during the month of February. The only one that won’t, football, will start spring practices later this week.

Sterk also presented Missouri’s financial report for the 2020 fiscal year and fielded questions about the new football indoor facility, the contract status of basketball coach Cuonzo Martin, and more. Here are the highlights.

Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk
Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk (Cassie Florido)

* Missouri’s athletics revenue grew from 2019 to 2020. But so did its deficit. For the fourth year in a row, the athletics department operated at a deficit, this time of about $8.8 million. That’s the largest deficit since Sterk took over as athletics director in 2017, up from $1.8 million in 2019. That also includes just the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, which Sterk said “caused havoc” on Missouri’s budget.

Missouri reported a revenue of $110.2 million in 2020, up from $106.6 million a year ago. The athletics department's expenses increased from $107.3 million in 2019 to $119.1 million in 2020.

One of the primary reasons Missouri’s spending out-paced that of 2019 and its 2020 budget was the athletics department buying out the contracts of former football coach Barry Odom and several of his assistants. Sterk also noted that the department paid about $22 million back to Missouri’s main campus for athletes’ tuition, room and board and institutional overhead. Like everyone else in the NCAA, the department missed out on revenue due to the cancelation of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament due to COVID-19.

Look for that deficit to continue to grow in fiscal year 2021. Since students returned to campus last summer, the department has lost money due to reduced attendance at football and basketball games while having to spend money it didn’t budget for on things like COVID testing and student-athletes receiving an additional season of eligibility. Sterk previously said the department was planning for revenue to be reduced by about 20 percent, which would be about $22 million. Missouri will save money in a few facets, as well — Sterk noted that the athletics department at one point was down 45 employees and the recruiting dead period imposed by the NCAA has saved Missouri money on travel — but likely not enough to balance the budget.

While Sterk said there’s still “a lot of moving parts” with the 2021 budget, he expressed optimism that the SEC’s revenue-sharing would help the department get through the lean year.

“We eliminated incentives, we reduced salaries, we have essential spending only,” he said. “Travel is only with team travel, and that's all the travel we have. So we've done a lot. But I think what's hopeful is our 2021 renewals look strong. 85% of our donors maintained their donor level from last year to this current year, even without their tickets. So that has really helped. Obviously the revenue sharing with the SEC, and we'll close that gap this year on our budget, and we're hopeful there.”

Sterk also expressed hope that Missouri will be able to return to full capacity crowds for sporting events starting next fall, but the department would also prepare to pivot from that if need be. The department is allowing 25 percent capacity for sporting events this spring, which Sterk said was the decision of local health officials.

“We’re planning on (full capacity in the fall), and then we'll have to pivot and adjust if it's not, if we're not vaccinated enough and we don't have herd immunity by that time,” Sterk said. “We can't do anything but plan on not limiting our sales, and so we're excited. I think the progress that's been made, especially in the last two, three weeks of the positives going down and hospitalizations going down. So we're trending very well and hopeful that it even improves by this summer.”

* The deficit is not stopping Sterk from continuing to push forward with plans to build a new football indoor facility. Doing so has been a priority since Eli Drinkwitz was hired as head coach, and earlier this month, the university’s Board of Curators approved the hire of architectural firm HOK to oversee the project. Drinkwitz, who also spoke to reporters Tuesday, said he has seen surveyors on site planning for the new facility, which will be built adjacent to Missouri’s south end zone football complex.

Sterk said the facility, which will free up the Devine Pavillion to be used by other sports, will be built on what is now Lot C. He said Missouri is at a “competitive disadvantage” with the 70-yard Devine complex serving as the only indoor practice space for not only football, but sports like baseball, softball and soccer, as well.

“The design should be complete by the May board meeting,” he said, “and we're hopeful to have a financing plan by then so that we can move forward, and then it would be an 18-month construction period.”

Sterk also assured that the athletics department will fund the project, which will cost about $32 million, without asking for help from Missouri’s main campus. The department has already received two separate $10 million donations for the project.

“We did it with the south end zone,” Sterk said. “That was 104 million. We do that. That’s what we do. I didn’t think of it in any other way.”

* The contract status of Martin has become a hot-button issue among Missouri fans the past few weeks. Martin is finishing up the fourth year of a seven-year deal. Asked about whether he would consider presenting Martin an extension during the offseason, Sterk said “it’s that time in the contract” to start talking about the future, and offered a glowing review of Martin’s tenure.

After taking over for Kim Anderson, Martin led Missouri to an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2018, his first season in Columbia. His teams then combined to go 30-33 across the past two years before starting this season well. The Tigers have spent 11 straight weeks ranked in the AP Top 25, topping out at No. 10, and seem poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since 2013. Missouri has seen its season slip a bit of late, though, losing four of its past five games.

“He's done a heck of a job, and it's that time in the contract where you start to look at it, and, ‘Okay Cuonzo, what's important to you, let's talk,’” Sterk said. “He wants to be here, he's building a program. He wants to be the last team standing some time, and I think he has a great opportunity to do that here. And we want him to do that. So we're excited about the future under his leadership.”

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