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CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University Carbondale officials worked with its athletic department to finance renovations to its aging baseball stadium, Abe Martin Field, in 2013.

When private donors raised $1.8 million to build what is now known as Richard "Itchy" Jones Stadium, former SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng offered to match it with a loan from the university. Jones Stadium opened in 2014. To help pay off that loan, and battle a $4 million-plus deficit, university officials are in discussions to potentially take on some of athletics' debt.

"If you pulled out the facilities costs that are being charged to athletics, it probably would have them in the black, or close to it, on a yearly basis," SIU President Randy Dunn said. "Every campus does this differently. Some fold them into a plant fund, others, their costs are specifically charged out in their entirety to athletics. At other places, it's a hybrid. In my experience, being at all mid-majors, I do kind of like having the hybrid approach to sharing a facility."

SIU's enrollment dropped below 16,000 students in the fall of 2017, the fifth time in the last six years it went down. More than 50 percent of the athletic department's funding comes from student fees, which was one reason it faced a $4.3 million deficit in 2015-16, according to financial numbers reported to the NCAA. The athletic department also faced a budget deficit of $3.05 million in 2015 and $3.16 million in 2014.

Its facilities cost in 2015-16, $6.76 million, was one of the department's biggest expenses, as it includes a nearly $1 million annual bond payment toward paying off Saluki Way. The $83 million project renovated SIU Arena, built the $25 million Saluki Stadium, and financed the Lew Hartzog Track and Field Complex. The university may not be able to help, though, as it endured its own financial struggles with shrinking enrollment. Shortly before the state passed a budget for the first time in two years in 2017, the SIU Carbondale campus borrowed millions from sister school SIU Edwardsville.

SIU athletic director Tommy Bell said there are regulatory hurdles for moving some of the department's debt if the school decides to do so.

"The chancellor is really looking for potential opportunities to address our budget a lot differently," Bell said. "Because it's really simple. If there was a way to manage the debt situation on the facilities, by the institution, there would be no deficit spending in athletics. But there are some state regulations and some other university regulations, that they will have to go through."

In the meantime, school and athletic officials are working on the one thing that will help both of them immediately: improving enrollment. Dunn said the school is examining how they use recruiters and where they send them, in addition to implementing Chancellor Carlo Montemagno's controversial restructuring plan, which seeks to eliminate departments in favor of new schools that could be more appealing to prospective students.

Athletics is also looking at restructuring, as it still hasn't replaced former senior woman's administrator Kathy Jones, who retired last December, and is adding women's soccer in 2019. The athletic department believes the women's soccer team will bring in 25 to 30 student-athletes, few of which will be on full scholarship.

"There might not be a more closely-tied-to-the-region university more than Southern Illinois Carbondale," Dunn said. "We've got to strengthen the Carbondale campus, and this isn't a one-year fix. It's not even a three-year fix. This is an ongoing, long-term approach that, over time, turns the ship so that SIU Carbondale can once again realize it's service, and building up of the region that we're in, because our region so desperately needs us to take on that role."


On Twitter: @THefferman


Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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