NORMAN — Upon his arrival to Oklahoma's athletic director post, Joe Castiglione found a mess. "I had never been involved with a department that had lost money, in my entire career,” he said. "It was foreign to me.”
But that was the scenario in May 1998. Because he wasn't there, Castiglione can't explain how or why, but the OU athletic department had accrued an estimated $15 million in debt following years of athletic budgets that fell in the red. Something had to change. "It was kind of like turning a battleship,” Castiglione said. "You can't wheel it around quickly.” Today, OU is among just a handful of institutions that not only balance their budgets, but turn windfall profits that go into academic endeavors. The department's $15 million debt has been paid down to $4.2 million. And in just a decade, the OU athletic department's budget has ballooned from $26.5 million to $70.8 million and the school has added women's soccer and rowing. None of that includes the more than $120 million that was raised to renovate Memorial Stadium, including construction of the east side's upper deck. Or the endless increases in other capital improvements, alumni giving and admissions applications. How did this all happen? "We can tie everything back to Bob Stoops,” Castiglione said. "The success of our football program has been like the high tide in the harbor that has raised all of the boats.”
Turning the tideIn 1998, the Sooner football team finished with a fifth consecutive non-winning season. And the athletic department budget was in the dumps. Football was not generating enough revenue to cover the rest of the athletic department. The result was a $15 million debt, which was substantial considering the overall operating budget hovered around $25 million The school was only reeling in about $700,000 in advertising and sponsorships, and just $300,000 in trademarks and licensing, according to executive associate athletic director Larry Naifeh. Castiglione's first move was to balance the budget. He decided to cut 25 positions that had come open through retirement or departure, which put a strain on the other 85-plus employees in the department. "Tough calls were made,” he said. "But one way or another, we were going to balance the budget.” Castiglione's next and most crucial move was hiring a football coach who could not only produce wins, but revenue streams, too. In December 1998, Stoops was hired, tasked with resurrecting a football program that had been dormant for more than a decade. In Stoops' first year, OU went 7-5 and reached the Independence Bowl. Said Castiglione, "We showed a lot of promise that first year.” Months before the 2000 season, Sooner officials scheduled the public kickoff of a $100 million capital projects campaign for Oct. 27, the weekend of the Nebraska game. Castiglione said he was questioned as to why he didn't schedule the campaign kickoff around a game the Sooners could win. But in the end, the timing proved to be perfect. In its two previous games, OU had beaten Texas, 63-14, and No. 2 Kansas State on the road. The day after the campaign was announced, OU hammered Nebraska 31-14 to assume the No. 1 ranking on the way to the school's seventh national championship. The campaign had a three-year goal, but raised the $100 million in less than two years. In all, the campaign raised more than $120 million, which led to construction of the east side's upper deck and suites and building of an indoor practice facility, the Everest Indoor Training Center. "The success of that season proved to be a great catalyst for the completion of that campaign,” Castiglione said. But the capital campaign didn't factor into the annual athletic budget. Nor did the dollars earned from appearing in a BCS bowl — that money was divided among the Big 12 schools as part of the conference's bowl revenue sharing agreement. The national title didn't help with ticket sales, either, because the stadium had already been sold out. "People were already buying all the tickets we had,” Castiglione said. "Let's not be naïve, there were ticket price increase. But we weren't going to get into price gauging.” Still, the national title helped raise the value of a ticket. In addition to raising its ticket pricing, the athletic department was able to reorganize its season-ticket pricing. In the past, season-ticket holders were given roughly a 35 percent discount on each ticket's face value. OU was able to eventually lower that to between 10 and 12 percent. OU also increased the giving categories of season-ticket holders, though about two-thirds of the stadium's seats still require no contribution. That next year, the athletic department revenues shot up from $27.5 million to $38.1 million. Ever since, the athletic budget has grown by average of $5.2 million a year and has turned a profit in every year. In 2007-08, the budget was at a record $69.4 million.
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Stoops@10: The series
This week, The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com present a special look at Bob Stoops' tenure at OU. Stoops is entering his 10th season with the Sooners.
In The Oklahoman•Sunday: Stoops' legend still under construction. •Monday: What about Bob? Interesting tidbits about Stoops. •Tuesday Growing up Youngstown. •Wednesday: How Stoops got hired. •Today: How Stoops shapes OU's economy. •Friday: The stability of Stoops' coaching staff. •Saturday: The Stoops only few people know. •Sunday: The future — what is Stoops' second act?
Online at NewsOK.com•Videos of Stoops, including analysis from the reporters who have covered him. •A timeline of Stoops' career with the Sooners. •A slideshow of The Oklahoman's best illustrations of Stoops. •An interactive graphic about the best coaches in OU history. •How do you stack up? Try the Stoops salary calculator. For the complete series, go to NewsOK.com/Stoops