(editor’s note: This article was written by the Chronicle-Tribune’s Jillian Fellows on May 14, 2015. Photo is of Bechler addressing the crowd at the Marion turf field dedication ceremony in August)
When Jamy Bechler was appointed director of the Marion High School athletic department last spring, he took command of sports teams with a storied and successful past as well as a mountain of debt from more than a decade of unchecked spending.
Bechler presented a financial summary to the Marion Community Schools board members at their Wednesday meeting, and the numbers told a story of the highs and lows of athletic spending over the years.
Bechler began by quoting from a financial report put together in 1996 by the athletic director of the time that “the athletic department was very close to dipping into the investment principal in order to meet operating expenses.”
That report indicates that the financial situation for Giants athletics has been in poor shape for many years, although current records only date back to 2006.
“The data we have currently goes back to 2006 where we had a CD (certificate of deposit) of $95,000,” Bechler said. “That was essentially our savings. We had a checkbook for $31,000 in 2006. Eight years later when I took over, we had $30,000 in our savings and $6,300 in our checkbook. Over the course of eight years, we lost nearly $90,000. Essentially we are living beyond our means.”
Immediately after stepping into the athletic director position a year ago, Bechler was faced with debt and unmonitored spending. Bechler and his staff quickly began efforts to turn the finances around.
“I had a stack of bills numbering about $15,000 and we did not have the money to pay for that when I came in,” Bechler said. “What we did is we tried to stop the bleeding. We tried to stabilize the athletic department and we tried to modify some behaviors in terms of making sure we put into place an expenditure process.”
After working with building administrators and the coaching staff, the athletic department is projected to post its largest surplus checkbook amount in at least four years. Around $12,000 will be left at the end of the year after all of the bills are paid.
“We are currently debt free and we are current with all of our bills, so at the end of this year we will not owe anything and we project to have a $12,000 balance,” Bechler said. “That’s based on projections of knowing where our averages are.”
Several school board members expressed concerns about the financial situation and that it had gone unchecked for so long.
“This has gone unmonitored all of these years,” said board member Pam Hutchison. “It makes you wonder what other areas we need to look at.”
Board member Katie Morgan asked whether the athletic department operated on a budget each year.
“We do not have a departmental budget,” Bechler said. “They have not had a departmental budget for many, many years. The way it’s operated in the past is essentially if somebody wants to spend something, they spent it, which is why you have a deficit and why we lost $90,000 in eight years because it goes unchecked.”
A goal, however, is to put a budget in place so school officials and coaches know what is needed each year in expenses.
Bechler said that the vast majority of revenue that comes in each year is from gate sales at home games.
“The last four years, 82 percent of all revenue that comes in is related to putting butts in the seats and having attendance at our sporting events,” he said. “We rely on putting people in the stands.”
Season tickets account for 25 percent of annual revenue, sponsors are 12 percent, entry fees are 3 percent and appropriations are also 3 percent.
“The only money that we receive from Marion Community Schools is a $5,000 appropriation for transportation,” Bechler said. “We typically spend $39,000 to $42,000 per year on transportation to get to our sporting events. We’re charged $0.75 a mile and $15.64 per hour for a driver whether they are sitting there or they’re driving.”
Bechler provided travel appropriations for other NCC athletic departments and “other than Muncie Central, we would receive the least amount of appropriations from our school district.”
“We had a lot more away trips this year, which also hurt our revenue because we had less home events so we brought in less money and caused our transportation bill to be a little bit higher,” Bechler said. “We didn’t have the balanced schedule that we would have preferred to have.”
Transportation is the third largest expense for the athletic department each year, accounting for 26 percent of total expense. Officials and workers amount to 29 percent of expenses and equipment and supplies are 27 percent.
“Without having any operating budget at all you’re completely incapable of figuring out what you need to fundraise for,” Morgan said. “You’ve got transportation at 26 percent and equipment and supplies at 27 percent, before we ever are asked for a dollar I would suggest that the department have an actual budget where you can predict what you need to come up with to hit your 26 percent and what your projected supplies are for the next five years.”
Bechler agreed with that sentiment, saying that budget planning is a big part of the department’s financial future.
“We have been working on figuring that out,” he said. “The structure in the past was essentially to spend and then worry about it later because that’s what we all do in our lives when we’ve got a big savings account. Sometimes we live beyond our means and we pull from that savings account. That’s what the athletic department has done for many, many years. We’ve put together a plan with our coaches to figure out what they need from year to year and what they want from year to year.”
However, budget planning cannot be 100 percent accurate because of revenue variances.
“We cannot do that with 100 percent accuracy like we would want to because we have a variance. Our variance is gate sales and attendance of our games but we can get an idea and that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” Bechler said. “We have tried to stabilize our spending. We have tried to max out our revenues as much as possible. We don’t know exactly what this next year holds but we can plan for that.”
Around $11,500 per year is spent on operational needs in equipment and supplies that must be purchased or updated each year, such as football helmet reconditioning.
Board member Greg Kitts said that many athletic fundraisers during the year have been for equipment that he would deem necessary for the team, such as new helmets or a batting cage.
“These are needs. These aren’t wants or any luxuries,” he said. “If we’re going to offer a sport, I think we’ve got to fund a sport as opposed to putting our athletes out there and saying ‘Hey, you’ve got to put your boots on the ground and get all this money if you want to participate.'”
Board member Aaron Vermilion added “We cannot put on our coaches and our players operational needs…We as a board should be making sure that’s something that is covered.”
Fundraising will always be a part of high school athletics, Bechler said, but the goal in modifying spending habits is to make it less necessary for teams to purchase their own uniforms or equipment.
“I don’t think coaches should have to fundraise, however, sometimes the reality is different than what we would like it to be,” Bechler said. “They’re starting to question how badly do I need this? Do I need this right now or do I need this next year? Those are the kinds of things that we went to each coach and talked to them about. Not every coach is excited about it, just like I was not excited when my athletic director would tell me things like that but that is part of this painful process.”
The recent creation of a $2 million sports endowment through the Community Foundation could help sort out the athletic department’s financial situation, but those funds will not be available for several years.
“I wish that we had done that 20 or 30 years ago. This will be a great thing for us,” Bechler said. “You don’t understand how much I wish some athletic director was up here talking to you before I ever got here because I did not come here to be a CPA or to be an accountant or to tell coaches no. I came here to be a leader and to move us forward. I wish someone had stood up here years ago and we had gotten this straight but they didn’t so now we’re doing it and the best time to start is now.”
Board vice president Harry Hall thanked Bechler for his presentation and praised his efforts over the past year.
“I know it’s not pleasant to come to the board and say, ‘We’re in trouble. We have been spending beyond our means,'” Hall said. “I think you’re on the right track and I want to encourage you to keep going in working with the coaches.”
Moving forward, Bechler and his team have a plan in place to continue to better monitor spending and build the athletic department’s savings.
“Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is give our student athletes the best experience they can. Unfortunately, when money gets in the way, we have to make some tough decisions,” Bechler said. “We want to build ourselves back up to essentially where we were in the heyday but have a better plan for what we’re going to do now that we’re here. I think that’s what we’re trying to do with these endowments, and not just for the athletics but for art and academics as well.”