Finance Strategies for Interscholastic Coaches

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Online Master of Athletic Administration

Recent budget cuts in education have forced athletic departments in many school districts to either reduce their athletic programs drastically or come up with ways to finance their sports programs themselves, according to education researcher Grace Chen in her article, “Hello Budget Cuts, Goodbye Sports: The Threat to Athletics.”

Businessman ready to compete

The good news is that never before have sports programs had so many lucrative ways to raise funds and self-finance, including sponsorships, broadcasting, booster clubs, and expanded opportunities to collect revenue. Innovative athletic directors and coaches are working together all over the country to keep their athletic programs alive and well.

Students pursuing a master’s in coaching degree can benefit from a familiarity with financial strategies. A working knowledge of sports finance can help athletic administrators keep their departments well funded and well supplied so they can provide effective guidance for student-athletes.

Budgetary Tips and Approaches

Athletic directors (ADs) can’t lead sports departments without dedicated coaches who understand the financial challenges facing American schools. ADs and coaches should maintain a constant dialogue about equipment, travel expenses, uniforms, and other necessary expenses that pop up throughout the school year.

More efficient communication means better, more accurate annual budgets, according to sports writer Kevin Hoffman’s Coach & AD article “The Athletic Budget Balancing Act.” Hoffman also highlights several budgetary tips of which interscholastic sports personnel should be aware:

  • Accuracy + justification = trust: When creating a budget, make sure all of your numbers add up and you have appropriate justification for every request. Showing that your budget is free of unnecessary or inflated expenses is how you build trust with your school board, staff, and community.
  • Report the difference between proposed and actual budgets: Actual budgets don’t necessarily reflect the one that was approved. Special circumstances or needs may require more spending in some areas or result in savings in another. Report to the administration where the shortfalls and surpluses occurred to show you’re being honest and transparent.
  • Welcome an external audit:You may have staff members who are qualified to review your proposal, but hiring a budget-savvy person on the outside to audit your work is important. A third-party audit shows dedication to accuracy on your program’s behalf.
  • Pursue continuing education:The National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association offers leadership-training courses on everything from the philosophy of educational athletics to risk management. One course, (LTC 511) called “Concepts and Strategies for Interscholastic Budgeting and Finance Using Excel Spreadsheets,” is highly recommended for athletic directors responsible for creating their department’s budget.

In another Coach & AD article, “Four Popular Budgeting Styles Used in Athletic Programs,” Hoffman introduces a variety of approaches toward budgeting that ADs and coaches can learn together and implement in their schools:

  • Top-Down Budget: A management team generates cost projections by forecasting revenue and expenses for the next year, then imposes them on lower departments. This approach tends to take less time because it limits communication and coordination, but lower level department heads may feel that their needs are overlooked.
  • Bottom-Up Budget: Lower level departments create a budget based on their needs and submit it to management for review. This approach requires a lot of collaboration and coordination and may take more time to finalize, but upper management is less likely to overlook the needs of individual departments.
  • Zero-Based Budget: Budgets start at zero and each item requested must be submitted with a justification for that expense. Then management reviews each item and determines whether or not it will be funded. The zero-based approach tends to reduce waste, but it can also be incredibly time-consuming.
  • Incremental Budget: Perhaps the quickest and easiest budgetary approach, the incremental budget, simply carries over the previous year’s numbers and makes small adjustments where necessary. Lower level departments tend to view this approach as stable and reliable. But any loss of funds may carry over into future years, and resource misallocations can be common.

Rethinking the Funding Process

Coaches can do more to be part of the funding and budgetary processes than simply submit funding requests and bottom-up budgets. They can also help their ADs look outside the program for ways to bring in more revenue and funding.

Athletic director China Jude of Queens, NY, knows that getting coaches on board is imperative to success in financing procedures, budgets, and fundraising for athletics. In her article, “Finances & Fundraising: Story of a Surplus,” Jude points out that:

  • ADs should actively involve coaches in the process of raising funds and meeting budgetary goals. If the coaches know and understand the AD’s plans, they will be better able to do their part to help in the process. Involving coaches in fundraising can also reduce the number of accusations of favoritism between sports programs.
  • Every employee in an athletic department should be encouraged to exhibit an entrepreneurial spirit. Staff can be asked to brainstorm ways to increase revenue, tap into alumni donations and anything else that might benefit the department financially.
  • ADs should be clear about job expectations when hiring new coaches. New staff members should understand that fundraising is a large part of their duties. Offering incentives can help to maintain those expectations, and checking regularly on the coaching staff’s morale is important. If stress levels are too high, perhaps the staff is being pushed too hard.

Jude credits much of her school’s successes to her coaching staff. Queens College now only receives about 20 percent of its budget from the school itself. The rest comes from alternative revenue sources. Jude notes that nothing her athletic program did was particularly innovative. She just tapped into proven strategies and inspired all members of her department to work toward a common goal.

Coaches work in a system that requires a business-like approach toward budgetary and financing issues. If sports programs can’t be paid for, they won’t have any student-athletes to coach.

Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Program

Ohio University excels at preparing students for athletic administration positions in middle school athletics departments. For more information on OHIO’s online Master of Athletic Administration, contact OHIO today.



The Threat to Athletics –

Budget Balancing Act – Coach & AD

Four Budgeting Styles – Coach & AD

Finances and Fundraising – Athletic Management