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Athletics firmly in the black

With a $36 million baseball stadium set to open and the salaries for two new basketball coaches on the books, South Carolina does not expect to make as much money next year as it did this fiscal year.

Even so, Gamecocks athletics director Eric Hyman is sleeping more peacefully these days.

USC’s Intercollegiate Activities Committee approved a $65.1 million athletics budget Wednesday and sent it to the full board of trustees, which votes on the budget next week.

Athletics officials expect to clear about $500,000 next year after making an anticipated $2 million in 2007-08. But Hyman said his department is in much better financial shape than two years ago when it received a $2.74 million subsidy from the university.

“I can put my head on my pillow at night and feel good about where we are. The comfort zone’s much higher,” Hyman said. “I know we’re in a profession of passion. Everybody’s got passion (and) excitement, which creates a huge amount of interest.

“But the bottom line is you’ve still got to run it like a business, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do. I think we’re getting to a point where we have some of the financial flexibility to do some of the initiatives.”

Hyman has received board approval for feasibility studies for Williams-Brice Stadium expansion and a massive facilities plan for the Roost, which Hyman hopes to transform into an athletics complex modeled after the Horseshoe.

However, the state’s budget and control board this week put a three-month moratorium on higher education construction projects, including the athletics projects that have not yet begun.

Hyman also is in the process of restocking the athletic department’s reserve fund after it was depleted to $3.3 million two years ago. The addition of this year’s $2 million surplus will take the fund to $8.7 million, close to Hyman’s goal of keeping 15 percent of the annual operating budget tucked away for safe keeping.

“The last couple of years we’ve made a conscientious effort to put it back up there and get it to where we’re covered,” Hyman said. “You can’t operate with this kind of $60 million (budget) and not give yourself any kind of protection.”

The budget received a $2.4 million bump from ISP Sports, which signed a nine-year, $50.6 million multimedia rights deal with USC in February. USC is guaranteed $4.4 million in the first year of the ISP contract — more than double the $2 million the school received during the final year of the current ISP/Learfield deal that expires in June.

“That (ISP contract) is the news of the day for fiscal year ’08-’09,” said Jeff Tallant, the athletic department’s chief financial officer.

The ISP deal gave Hyman more flexibility in hiring new basketball coaches Darrin Horn and Dawn Staley, who received contracts worth $800,000 and $575,000 per year, respectively. Staley’s deal makes the former Temple coach among the 10 highest-paid coaches nationally, although Hyman does not expect the women’s basketball program to turn a profit.

“I think there may be only one or two in the country that do, and that’s maybe Tennessee and Connecticut,” he said. “But do we have the upside potential revenue-wise with her? Yes.”

Other notable budget items:

 A 12 percent increase in salaries and benefits, attributable to the basketball hires as well as raises for football coach Steve Spurrier’s staff and several new administrative hires;

 An additional $700,000 in anticipated revenues from the Gamecock Club, which is increasing each of its giving levels by 5 percent this year;

 A $750,000 guarantee that USC will pay UAB for its Sept. 27 football game with the Gamecocks, more than three times what USC will pay Wofford.

But Hyman said the UAB guarantee is a bargain compared to what some non-BCS schools are demanding as bigger programs look to fill their 12-game schedules. ECU, the Gamecocks’ original Sept. 27 opponent before encountering a scheduling conflict, will give USC a $250,000 subsidy toward the UAB payout.

“This is much cheaper than the marketplace,” Hyman told board members. “That’s one of the reasons why we went to I-AA schools because the cost to play schools like UAB has just skyrocketed because they know they have leverage.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.