Making the Most of an Opportunity: Southeastern excels in baseball despite vast difference in opponent budgets

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(Photos: Arief Harlan)

HAMMOND, La. – Finding a way to provide its student-athletes with a well-rounded college experience despite the budgetary constraints that come with being outside the Power 5 has been a source of pride for the Southeastern Louisiana University Department of Athletics under current Athletic Director Jay Artigues.

Several of the Lions’ programs have excelled despite budgets that don’t exactly match up with the big-name opponents whom they routinely compete against.

A case in point is the Southeastern baseball program under head coach Matt Riser.

“While baseball, like most Division-I sports, is largely dominated by the wealthiest programs, there are still instances of programs that have either made bold proportional baseball investments or made the very most of their modest budgets,” the ADU report states.

Nationally, the average operating expenses for a Division I program grew by 40 percent over the decade preceding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last five years, average operating expenses ranged from $1.25 million for programs in the SEC to as little as $102,371 in the SWAC. The Southland Conference ($222,069) ranked 20th out of the 30 Division I conferences that sponsor baseball, ranking ahead of peers such as the Southern Conference ($196,213), Ohio Valley ($186,320) and the Big South ($166,923).

ADU defined operating expenses to include money attributable to lodging, meals, transportation, uniforms, equipment, team members, support staff and more, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education’s EADA database.

Ole Miss, the reigning national champion, holds the distinction of compiling the highest average operating expenses ($2,842,324) over the five-year period, besting the second-highest spender – Arkansas – by more than one million dollars. Southeastern earned wins over both this past season.

“You see the investment in college baseball over the last decade, maybe more than in the previous 50 years, and rightfully so,” Riser said. “The game has grown a ton. With the TV exposure of the College World Series and that college baseball is getting in the spring, it is awesome to see. There is a cost involved and there is also money to be made.”

When it comes to breaking down postseason bids, the at-large bids ($862,327) were dominated by higher-spending programs than the automatic bids ($441,634) presented primarily to conference tournament winners.

“Just 23.3 percent of NCAA baseball programs averaged at least $500,000 in annual operating expenses during our study,” ADU reports. “However, 78.3 percent of at-large bids over the last five tournaments went to programs with at least $500,000 in annual operating expenses.”

Included in that span is the at-large appearance by the Lions in the 2017 NCAA Regional in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“While nearly half of NCAA baseball averaged less than $250K in average annual expenses, those teams made up just 3.6 percent of at-large bids during our five-year study,” the ADU report states. “Tennessee Tech, Campbell, Troy, Southeastern, Jacksonville and Fairfield are among the programs with the smallest budgets that still managed to carve out at-large bids in recent seasons.”

According to the ADU report, plenty of programs have displayed continued success despite smaller budgets. When considering the lowest “cost-per-win” averages over the last five years among teams with top-100 RPI averages, Southeastern ranked fifth with an average cost of $5,751 per win and the highest average RPI (83.6) of the programs ranked in the Top 8.

“Every school has their niche, something they can cash in on and other things they wish could be better,” Riser said. “At the end of the day, you do your best with the hand you’ve been dealt. For us, it all starts with our athletic director. He always talks about providing the guys an FBS experience on an FCS budget, getting creative in what we do and finding people that are involved. The amount of outside support we have, outside of the state budget, what they invest with the time, effort, energy and financial dollars is what makes Hammond and Southeastern special.”

During this span, the average “cost per win” breaks down to $14,412 while 50 teams exceeded $20,000 per victory.

“From our coaching staff developing players when they come to Southeastern and our staff members, from academics to compliance to nutrition to strength and conditioning to athletic training, what everyone invests time and energy-wise is why we’re able to have the type of success we do when the state budget might not be the same as at a Power 5,” Riser said. “We’ve been fortunate to have guys that buy into that idea and they have been able to cash in on the rewards, with the at-large bids to the NCAA Regionals and the championships.”

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