When it comes to traveling, the Missouri Western athletics department is experienced in navigating on a tight budget.
The university’s travel expenses tally up to only a fraction of the expenses of competing schools in Missouri. Missouri Western’s costs in 2014 came to just under $300,000, while Missouri Southern surpassed $400,000. Northwest Missouri State University spent over $500,000 and the University of Central Missouri racked up over $700,000 in travel costs.
Though some of these schools have additional sports teams that contribute to the overall travel expense, a comparison of similar teams reveals that Missouri Western is often more efficient with its money. For example, the men’s basketball team spent $28,337 on travel in the 2013-2014 season, compared to Missouri Southern’s men’s team expense of $78,917.
Head coach Brett Weiberg attributes much of that difference to being mindful of unnecessary expenses due to being on a tighter budget to begin with.
“The last thing we want to do is go on and make it seem like we’re trying to do everything the cheapest way we can do it,” Weiberg said. “But on the flip side, you’re trying not to spend money that you do not need to be spending.”
The budget for each team is assigned by Kurt McGuffin, Missouri Western’s director of athletics. His funds come from two sources.
“When we budget, for instance, my salaries and my scholarships are paid through the school,” McGuffin said.
Of the remainder, “there’s about $100,000 that we divide amongst the sports,” according to McGuffin.
To begin to cover the rest of the costs, McGuffin distributes funds raised through donations from the Missouri Western Gold Coat Club.
For additional funding, teams can also hold fundraising events, such as the ones hosted by head coach Jennifer Bagley-Trotter’s women’s softball team.
“We do a hit-a-thon every fall, and you can pledge per foot, or you can pledge a certain dollar amount,” Trotter said. “We’ve probably raised an average of $7,500.”
Other fundraisers that Trotter’s team has put together include a spring tournament, a pancake feed and a free clinic with requested donations. Similar to the softball tournament, the men’s basketball team hosts the Hillyard Tipoff Classic, which is its largest fundraiser of the year.
The coaches are responsible for dividing their budgets up as they see fit. One factor that has added extra strain to their budgets is the recent expansion of the MIAA conference.
While Missouri Western is lucky to be centrally located within the conference, the recent expansion of Division II teams has increased the distance they must travel each year.
Though Truman State University has left the league, they have since added the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Fort Hays State University, Lindenwood University, University of Central Oklahoma and Northeastern State University. This creates five additional overnight trips that Missouri Western did not have to account for previously.
“The expansion of the league creates more costs that Missouri Western can’t do anything about,” Weiberg said. “You got to go play, it’s part of the league. There’s several thousand dollars from your budget that wasn’t there four years ago.”
One advantage that Missouri Western holds over other schools is that the university owns its own busses. Trotter discovered that taking a Missouri Western bus enables her to save significantly on her trips.
“I checked out what it cost to take a Heartland bus, and it was $2,000 more,” Trotter said. “If you take that times 56 games, that’s a lot of money.”
The busses are showing their age, however, and the department will eventually have to decide if buying new busses for a half million dollars each is worth the price. Also factoring into the decision is that, due to their size, the football team has to charter busses anyway.
The other big factors in the travel budget are hotel costs. Coaches have the option of arriving a night early and booking one athlete per bed, but often choose to arrive on the day of the event and have athletes share beds in order to stay under budget.
“At the end of the day, a coach is not going to make a decision that he thinks will lessen his chance to win,” Weiberg said. “Even though we might choose to go on the day of the game a lot, when some other teams would choose to go the day before, I do not think it would lessen our chances to win.”
Another cost-cutting strategy McGuffin discussed was that Missouri Western teams often have more athletes to a room.
“I know other schools are going two-to-a-room, as a rule,” McGuffin said. “Our baseball teams go three to a room, so we try to cut down expenses there.”
Another important factor of traveling that coaches have control over is how their team eats while on the road. Some teams choose to pack lunches, while others visit local restaurants and buffets to get the most variety.
“They don’t eat extravagantly,” McGuffin said. “They try to go to something like a Golden Corral because every kid can pick what they want to eat.”
Trotter tries to make memories every time her team goes on the road, and many times, those memories are based around food.
“We hardly ever eat at a chain restaurant,” Trotter said. “When we can, we try to take in local sights. Those are the moments when your Instagram gets blown up with different pictures of them at all the different things that they find. I think that’s where the memories, the camaraderie and all the funny things happen, on trips.”
Though the rooms may seem cramped and the bus rides seem long, the coaches say that staying in close quarters helps build team camaraderie.
“Good teams really utilize the road to come together as a team,” Weiberg said. “If you’re awake for 14 hours, you’re together in some capacity for at least 12 of those 14 hours. It’s inevitable that it’s a team-building experience, and most of the time, it’s a positive experience.”
Trotter agrees and believes the true value of collegiate sports lies in the experience of traveling. The away games give her players a unique chance to play and be proud of their team, which she states is the biggest student athlete experience.
Brooke Schaben, a senior outfielder on Trotter’s softball team, enjoys the opportunities to go out of town with her teammates.
“Personally, I love traveling,” Schaben said. “I think being able to travel, especially early in the season, really helps with our team building. It’s different when you’re on a bus with 16 other girls for eight hours at a time, and seeing everybody off the field a lot more than we normally do.”
While Missouri Western must make difficult decisions regarding travel costs due to a lack of state funding, the athletics department tries to make the best of a tough situation in order to represent the university across the region.
“Being a positive influence and an ambassador for our school, our town and everything that we represent is huge,” Weiberg said. “And we feel like part of our job is to be the best ambassadors we can be.”