UNLV athletics in black; budget challenges beckon

UNLV's athletic department ended the fiscal year June 30 with a budget surplus between $500,000 to $800,000, but athletic director Jim Livengood doesn't expect that money to last.

"That is immediately taken up by our fiscal '13 budget," he said Friday.

Livengood said UNLV's athletic budget, which is roughly $28.5 million, usually will be difficult to balance. The Rebels aren't in a power conference, so they don't have enormous TV dollars flowing into the department.

The Pac-12 Conference, for example, receives $3 billion over a 12-year contract with ESPN and Fox.

The Mountain West Conference will take in $12 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year from CBS Sports Network, split among eight schools. Boise State and San Diego State will not receive TV dollars as a penalty for leaving next year for the Big East Conference.

So UNLV will receive $1.5 million this fiscal year, and the total could increase if agreements are reached with other outlets to air additional games. But with The Mtn. gone, so is $4 million to the conference's coffers, a $500,000 loss to UNLV.

Five years remain on the league's deal with CBS, with an option for another two. Modifications could be made to that agreement, and the Mountain West could sign contracts with other networks.

"This '12 football season and this '12-13 basketball season is going to be more or less a bridge year," Livengood said. "... we're really trying to get as many games on TV as we possibly can."

UNLV hopes to have a football program worth watching. The Rebels have finished with two victories in six of the past eight seasons.

"Nobody realizes more than Bobby (Hauck) that we have to be more successful on the field," Livengood said of the third-year coach.

Livengood sees an opportunity, though, with four home games to begin the season. He said he hopes to draw a strong crowd for the Aug. 30 opener against Minnesota, and that a positive showing will help carry over to a healthy attendance Sept. 8 against Northern Arizona.

UNLV is investing more resources into the football program, such as a stronger effort in marketing.

"We still have seats to sell, and we still have a lot of room for growth," Livengood said. "If our football stadium was completely full and we were still having financial issues, that's a whole different topic."

UNLV obviously has a successful basketball program to help generate revenue, and the Rebels could rank as a top-15 team next season.

That helps the bottom line, as would a new football stadium. Livengood acknowledged contacts are being made with state legislators and candidates for those offices to set the stage for a strong push for legislative approval next year.

"The stadium is moving along at a good pace," Livengood said. "There are still a lot of moving parts. There is still a lot to be done. But there is nothing that has happened that leads me to believe that it can't happen."

Even if an on-campus stadium is approved and built, Livengood said, UNLV still expects budgetary challenges.

So football and basketball ticket prices could increase in following years, though Livengood said it was important to not price fans out of the market. Games for pay - such as the football team's $1 million trip to Michigan in 2015 - could become more common.

The interest building in UNLV athletics is hard to dismiss, however, even in a dour economy.

Contributors to the Rebel Athletic Fund rose from 1,327 two years ago to more than 2,300, beating UNLV's goal of 2,012 in 2012. The amount of RAF money increased from $3.7 million to $5.6 million over that time.

"That can only happen with the community support of the Rebels," said Julio Freire, senior associate athletic director for development. "We have to continue to grow from here."

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.