For his efforts in fundraising which have helped improve the facilities at The Beach, Vic Cegles was named one of the 10 best fundraising athletic directors in the country by CollegeAD.org this week. This comes in the wake of a potentially game-changing decision last year that could turn intercollegiate athletics into an arms race and widen the gap between schools with seemingly limitless budgets and those with less financial resources.
Since taking over as athletic director at Long Beach State in 2006, Cegles has improved the school’s fund every year, with the total eclipsing $2 million in 2014. He’s also spearheading a fund raising campaign that when complete, would mean overhauls and makeovers of several athletic sites on campus, including Blair Field. Raising money is what Cegles does, and he’s been doing it well for 35 years.
“It’s my job to go out and say ‘hey, we’ve got great student athletes and great programs at Long Beach State, we want you to participate,’” Cegles said. “Is it easy? Not necessarily, but I do think in a lot of ways we are very effective.”
Cegles was one of only two administrators outside the “Power 5” conferences (Big 10, ACC, SEC, PAC 12, Big 12) to be named to the list, joining Brian Wickstrom of the University of Louisiana-Monroe. But the Long Beach athletic director was the only one on the list whose school doesn’t participate in football.
This is significant given the NCAA’s decision in August of last year to allow universities to offer stipends to athletes to cover the full cost of college attendance, which was defined by the gap between a full athletic scholarship and the actual cost to attend a particular university. This decision seemingly opens the door for a spending race that would favor larger universities with deeper pockets.
As a result of these announcements, the University of Alabama-Birmingham decided to drop its football program last month instead of getting into a spending war with the 64 schools from the “Power 5” conferences.
Football, often referred to as the “cash cow” of the schools that have a team, is a lucrative source of revenue, with many schools' football programs helping to balance out the entire athletic department’s budget. Long Beach ended its football program in 1991 and lacks the television contracts through which major Division I universities fund their athletic programs. Although the 49ers are featured on television broadcasts, most specifically men’s basketball, the school receives no money from those appearances.
In the age of massive television contracts it's become increasingly harder for schools outside the “Power 5” to compete financially. In May 2014, The San Jose Mercury News reported that the Pac-12’s revenue (home to UCLA and USC) for its first year under its new television contract with FOX and ESPN left the conference with a total—including football, basketball, postseason, advertising and investments—reaching over $330 million, with an average payout of $27.5 million to each member school for fiscal year 2013.
Meanwhile, the University of Texas at Austin (Texas) entered into an autonomous contract with ESPN to form the Longhorn Network last year, one that is projected to be worth $300 million over the course of 20 years. Despite Texas belonging to the Big 12 Conference, they will not split those revenues with any of their conference members.
The Southeastern Conference ($20.9 million average per team), Atlantic Coast Conference ($24.4 million average per team), Big Ten Conference ($24.8 million average per team) and the Big 12 Conference ($21.2 million average per team) weren’t far behind as far as “Power 5” conference television revenue goes. This doesn't take into account that the SEC Network, a channel owned by ESPN which began broadcasting this year, would further increase the earnings of the Southeastern Conference, with the added dollars equaling bigger payouts for member universities.
“They believe that with the new TV contract in 2017, [The Big 10's] revenues are going to go to $42 million,” Cegles said. “That really puts schools like us at a tremendous disadvantage.”
According to a revenue and expense report published by USA Today which detailed the over 225 Division I public schools’ athletic department financials for the 2012-13 school year, Long Beach ranked 135 out of 230 schools with an athletic department revenue of $15,514,877 while Texas, ranked number one, grossed over $165 million. In October 2014 article on NBC Sports, Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson announced plans to offer stipends of $10,000 annually to student athletes in all sports.
“The top 5 conferences, they will have more resources to take care of their student athletes,” Cegles said. “I feel very comfortably right now that we take care of our student athletes. And I think they do also at those other schools.”
Cegles added that the planned stipends, which have no concrete start date, will increase the difficulty that already exists in trying to get top-tier athletes to continue enrolling at Long Beach.
“We can’t do that,” Cegles said of the six-figure stipends planned by Texas. “How can we compete? If I’m recruiting a kid, and it’s hard enough now to get a kid that wants to go to Texas. But if you’re going to get [...] spending money [from Texas], do you think he’s even going to look at us?”
Despite these obstacles, Cegles, the university’s 12th athletic director, has trudged forward, putting out competitive teams in multiple sports in both mens' and womens' competition. He loves athletics, the young people he works with every day and the challenge of fundraising, even though he joked about trying to talk his two sons out of following him into the business. Although he recognized his job is never-ending and when he’s gone someone else will have to take the reins, when that day comes those reigns will be attached to much stronger wagon.
He implemented the Beach Athletic Club (BAC) upon his arrival in 2006, which allows for sport-specific solicitation of funds and provides recognition and benefits to donors. Through the BAC and his ability to secure donations both locally and nationally, facilities at The Beach have been renovated, most noticeably the replacement of the original hardwood floors inside the Walter Pyramid and a $2 million expansion and renovation of the locker rooms inside the pyramid. In November, the school erected a 14x60 foot video screen on the south wall of the Walter Pyramid, the largest video display of any on-campus collegiate facility.
Just this week, the university entered into a partnership with Time Warner Cable to advertise and promote Beach athletic events by reaching some 350,000 homes across the Southland. The deal will not affect the school’s athletic budget.
Cegles said the school is about 20 percent of the way toward its goal of completing a 25 million dollar capital campaign which, when completed, will go toward a multitude of renovations and facility enhancements across all sports.
The university plans to move the sports medicine program out of the kinesiology building on campus and into the Walter Pyramid, install new locker rooms for the university’s softball and soccer teams and complete what he estimates to be some $16 million in renovations needed at Blair Field. Cegles is even exploring opportunities to enter into an agreement with a company to sponsor Blair Field, in an attempt to bring in additional dollars to continue to improve the school’s facilities.
“Kids today are smart consumers,” Cegles said. “If you don’t have a good locker room and you don’t have good facilities to help you get better they’re going to go other places. If we’re going to continue to compete at the highest level we’ve got to do that, and we can. There’s so much talent in Southern California and our history is so great, we’ve just to improve the facilities to continue to compete.”