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MILLER: UND should make cuts with basketball support in mind

Mar 15, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, United States; North Dakota Fighting Hawks head coach Brian Jones talks to the media at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The UND athletic department needs to cut its budget this week. UND President Mark Kennedy has asked to snip $1.3 million.

More than likely that means the demise of at least one athletic program.

As we saw with the cut of baseball last spring, no one likes to see coaches lose their jobs and young players lose opportunities.

But as the athletic department reshapes its future, it should do so by reimagining priorities—specifically in supporting men's basketball the way a Division I school needs.

It might seem strange to propose boosting support at a time of fiscal cuts, but that's how the timelines meet. UND men's basketball coach Brian Jones is completing the last year of his contract.

And, really, that's perfect timing. If UND is going to shake things up, it should cut deep with the future in mind. UND shouldn't make this historic cut by trimming the bare minimum, allowing programs to be funded at poor levels and going about its business with the status quo.

Because, currently, the status quo is funding men's basketball at an embarrassing level in relation to like schools along Interstate 29.

UND is a year away from rejoining former North Central Conference rivals in the Summit League. Take a look at how those schools prioritize men's basketball:

At South Dakota, head coach Craig Smith just secured a $275,000 contract after leading the Coyotes to the NIT.

At South Dakota State, T.J. Otzelberger is reportedly making $300,000 per year in his first contract as head coach of the Jackrabbits.

Jones, meanwhile, isn't one of the top five paid coaches at his own university. Jones is making just north of $100,000.

That pay gap will eventually catch up with you. To maintain success, funding has to match.

The South Dakota coaching salaries aren't just a couple of big deals cherry-picked to make this case. Jones was most likely the lowest paid coach in the Big Dance. In the Big Sky Conference, Jones ranks 11th among the 12 league coaches in salary. If UND was in the Summit League, he'd be the lowest paid there, too.

And it's not just Jones' salary, either. It's the assistant coaches' salary pool as well. It's telling when Jones hasn't had the same assistant staff from one year to the next in almost a decade. It's a bad sign when assistants leave for other assistant jobs at a similar university.

Men's basketball is UND's biggest source of revenue potential. UND's NCAA tournament appearance against Arizona was seen by 1.4 million viewers on TBS, according to online reports.

That's a lot of eyeballs that would have been very expensive to garner if UND were paying for that advertising time.

There's ticket sale potential, too. UND averaged 2,139 fans at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center last season. But there's still a lot of room to grow into the facility.

The public outcry when cuts are made this week will be significant, no matter the programs cut loose. UND should at least make the public relations black eye worthwhile and redirect funds to worthwhile places.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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