Sid Hartman: U athletics takes its share of budget pain

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 7, 2009 - 11:57 PM

Joel Maturi says Gophers programs operate in the black, but they are being asked to hold the line on expenses, as is every department at the university.

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks sent a letter out to department heads, including athletic director Joel Maturi, urging them not to give any kind of contract extensions or pay raises until the school figures out how to handle the very difficult financial challenge it faces.

This eliminates any contract extension for football coach Tim Brewster, along with any other coach of a Gophers athletics program. Brewster's contract has three years remaining.

Bruininks cited Gov. Tim Pawlenty's cuts for higher education in the state budgets, a figure reported to be a 10.7 percent reduction from the current budget.

"The governor of the state of Minnesota recommended a $151 million reduction to our base budget, and we have another $60 million of costs that we have to cover on our own; that's a $200 million problem," Bruininks said. "So, Joel decided that it wasn't the time to talk about these issues, I think, in part, because I had asked every leader in the entire university system across the state of Minnesota to refrain from, as much as possible, new hiring and increasing budgets and other costs to the university."

Maturi agrees with his boss.

"It didn't hurt us in recruiting, thankfully, because I think people know that Coach Brewster has three years left and quite frankly, I think he'll be here not only those three years but beyond that," Maturi said. "But, it's just not the right time or place to be doing that."

However, Maturi expects the Gophers athletic department to finish in the black and not have the financial problems other schools are having.

"Everybody is being challenged. We at the University of Minnesota and the university's athletics department are no different," Maturi said. "When you read that Stanford is contemplating cutting sports, and yesterday I read a report that Ohio State's athletic's department might operate in the red this year, there are obviously concerns that we have. We are going to work real hard to operate in the black without negatively affecting our 25 sports teams, but it's going to be a challenge."

Asked if cutting programs was a possibility here, Maturi said, "At this time there's no discussion of eliminating any sports. That's not in the cards today. I can't speak about the cards tomorrow, because things can certainly change."

As challenging as the economic times are, Maturi is hopeful that TCF Bank Stadium will generate some additional revenues to help offset some of the losses.

"Obviously, I'm sure that we'll be affected by decisions that are still left to be made -- whether salaries are frozen, or we do have a hiring pause, it affects us, as it does the entire university. So, we're affected that way, but I do believe we're in a decent position to get through this."

Maturi has seen the purse strings tighten considerably at the athletic department during his time at the university.

"When I came here 6 1/2 years ago, we were getting over $8 million from the university, and now it's about $4.7 million, so it's cut almost in half during that time," he said. "It's gone down almost each and every year, understandably so -- we're becoming more self-sufficient each and every year.

"We've already taken a hit this year -- yes, we will get less money, we won't get that $4.7 million. It will be closer to $4.5 than $4.7 and it may be even less than that, because we have to take some of the pain that the entire university is enduring, and we in athletics are not immune to that, and we expect to be good soldiers and do our part."

Guerrier gets raise

Matt Guerrier was 0-3 with a 10.00 ERA in 12 appearances during the Twins' stretch drive for a division title last September. In nine innings, he gave up 15 hits and eight walks with six strikeouts.

For the season, he was 5-9 with a 5.19 ERA. He was effective in the first four months, he was 6-4 with a 3.49 ERA in 51 games, before having trouble getting batters out in August and September.

Guerrier was paid $950,000 last year. This year, he filed for arbitration, but settled for a $1.475 million contract, a pay raise of $525,000. Guerrier had asked for $1.75 million, while the Twins offered $1.2 million, and the sides split the difference.

"You know it's just one of those things where I went through a real rough stretch there, and hopefully I can turn it around and finish off strong this year," Guerrier said of his struggles at the end of the season. "Nothing I was doing was going right, and I wasn't catching any breaks and I just wasn't pitching well.

"That's the way baseball is, though. Sometimes you get some breaks, sometimes you make some good pitches and they get hits, sometimes you make some bad pitches and they get outs. It's one of those things where you've got to get some luck on your side sometimes too. If you don't pitch well and you make mistakes you're going to get hurt."

Lemaire's future?

Around the NHL, the word is that Wild President Doug Risebrough will have a hard time talking Jacques Lemaire into coaching again next season, especially if free agent Marian Gaborik doesn't return. Lemaire has coached the Wild since its inception in 2000.

The same sources are convinced that the injury-prone Gaborik will have a hard time getting the type of contract he was offered by the Wild earlier in the year because of his lack of durability, and that the Wild will have a good chance of re-signing him.

Jottings

The Twins could have signed third baseman Casey Blake, who wanted to return here, if they offered him a three-year contract, something the Dodgers ended up doing. In order to sign former White Sox third baseman Joe Crede, the Twins might have to offer him at least $5 million for this season and outbid the Giants, something they might not do. On the need for a third baseman, Twins General Manager Bill Smith said: "We have better third basemen on the roster than most of the ones on the market." ... Tickets are going fast for a Twins spring training schedule in Fort Myers, Fla., that includes two home games with the Yankees. ... Twins righthander Pat Neshek, who will be out for the season, will spend time rehabilitating his shoulder in Fort Myers.

AEG, the West Coast company that operates Target Center, is in the process of drawing plans to modernize the local arena and is hopeful that Minneapolis city officials will come up with the money necessary to do it so the arena can compete with the more modern Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. ... Despite the fact that the Lynx lose a lot of money, owner Glen Taylor has no plans to eliminate the WNBA team, as other cities have and others are considering.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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