The buck always stops with UCSB Athletic Director Gary Cunningham, even when there aren’t many bucks to go around.

With Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA) operating on an extremely modest budget, Cunningham, at the helm of the Athletic Dept. since 1995, maintains complete responsibility for 19 teams, over 400 athletes and a staff of over 30. He must ensure that the Athletic Dept. provides enough money to compete at the Division I level and win at a consistent rate.

“This is a real challenge because we are an underfunded program,” Cunningham said. “We do the best we can, but we are just trying to survive and stay even.”

In 1998, the UCSB Athletic Dept. received the lowest amount of funding from student fees of any of the 10 schools in the Big West Conference, including state schools like Long Beach, Cal Poly and Fullerton. UCSB’s $4 million budget in 1998 barely covered its 21 Division I athletic teams, a stark comparison to UC big brother UCLA’s $30 million budget that year. With the money allotted, the men’s track team, for example, could only afford to offer just one scholarship that would be divvied up among over 30 athletes. Even UC Davis, a program that jumped to Division I status in 2003-04 and won’t enter the Big West until the 2007-08 academic year, has out-pledged its commitment to athletics.

“Most of the Big West is better funded,” Cunningham said. “Irvine has more money than we do, but they have a bigger enrollment. The UC Davis program is built on referendum money.”

Yet during April 21-22 in 1998, 66.97 percent of the student body voted to approve a $9 per-student-per quarter fee measure that brought in an additional $450,000 per year in revenue to the UCSB Athletic Dept. The students reaffirmed the measure in 2002 and will be asked to do so again in the 2006 Associated Student elections. Cunningham said the money was designed to recruit players and add roughly 25 full scholarships at $18,000 per year.

“[If students did not reaffirm the ICA Initiative], we wouldn’t be able to fund our programs,” Cunningham said.
The referendum provided the most relief for equivalency sports and not the fully funded programs of men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball, which were already financially emphasized by the department. In 1998, the men’s swimming team, for example, could give scholarships to just four swimmers while consistently competing for titles against other Big West teams that could give scholarships to over three times as many athletes.

Nearly eight years later, UCSB is still searching for the money to stay afloat. For the 2004-05 academic year, UCSB could afford to provide 124 scholarships. Although it is an integral component to the UCSB Athletic Dept., the student initiative provides mere pennies to the total cost of operations. Cunningham said the university budgeted the athletic department $7,605,000 for this fiscal year, a figure that must finance salaries, travel, insurance, training rooms and scholarships in addition to a host of other expenses. According to Cunningham, the university provides approximately half of the $7.6 million. Other revenue arises out of alumni contributions, fundraising, advertising money, entry fees to tournaments, gate receipts, road game appearances, tournament appearances, season ticket sales, money incurred from a deal split with physical activities and traditional miscellaneous line items.

“Everyone has more money than [UCSB does],” UCSB men’s soccer Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg said. “The students at UC Davis have stepped up to the plate and decided that athletics reflect the entire student body. As a result, Davis gets double the amount of money we do.”

But seeing that the Big West Conference mandates that schools give scholarships to a minimum of eighty percent of emphasized sports – men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, baseball and softball – Cunningham said that Santa Barbara cannot afford to fund deserving Gaucho programs.
Higher up in the chain of command, the NCAA imposes its own scholarship regulations, including a ceiling figure for many ICA sports, but UCSB does not have the resources to max out any of them. To compete at the Division I level, schools must additionally field at least 14 NCAA-level teams that must also adhere to stringent Title IX guidelines.

The UCSB Athletic Dept. has made many improvements during the past year. The ICA building, the state-of-the-art facility that opened earlier in the spring, has been praised as a success by the department and the chancellor. Yet the financing for the improvements came directly from the students via a hefty lock-in fee approved in the 2000 Associated Students elections. Cunningham said that while he would like to give teams more money, the department receives a financial figure from the university each year and then creates the budget for each sport. Vom Steeg said there have been three consecutive years of budget cuts to the Athletic Dept.

“With budget cuts, everybody is affected,” Vom Steeg said. “It starts with the State of California. Budget cuts get handed down across the board.”

Given the current state of the economy, recent facility improvements and an obedience to the financial status quo, it appears unlikely that more money will arrive Cunningham’s way anytime soon.