Fresno State President Dr. Joseph I. Castro is not entertaining quick fixes for an athletics department that is struggling to squeeze 21 sports programs into a $37 million budget and push forward facilities projects — including a plan to improve the Duncan Building and student-athlete village that in its developing stages carries a $20 million price tag.
While other departments in Group of Five conferences including Eastern Michigan and New Mexico have dropped or are contemplating dropping programs, Fresno State is not.
"I'm not interested in reducing opportunities in athletics – the decisions I've made have expanded them," Castro said. "I'm not contemplating any adjustments that would reduce opportunities."
Castro also won't put additional burden on Fresno State students by raising fees for athletics. The Bulldogs' athletics department receives considerably less revenue from student fees than San Diego State and San Jose State — the two other California State University schools that compete in the Mountain West Conference.
San Diego State's athletics department receives $10.6 million a year in student fees. San Jose State athletics receives $8.3 million.
At Fresno State, student fees account for $4.4 million of athletic department revenue.
"The timing is not right for that (student fee increase)," Castro said.
But in taking the next step in the search for a new athletic director, identifying candidates who can cultivate additional sources of revenue will be key for a 14-person search committee led by Debbie Adishian-Astone, vice president for administration and associate vice president for auxiliary services. The posting for the job closed Sunday, with a hire to be completed by the end of June.
While costs escalate, general fund support of the Fresno State athletic department has more than doubled since 2013, when Castro was appointed university president, jumping to $11.25 million in 2017-18 from $5.1 million in 2013-14.
Fresno State has made major investment in athletics infrastructure, providing $3 million to replace the track at Warmerdam Field, $2 million to build the soccer/lacrosse stadium set between Bulldog Stadium and Beiden Field, $1.8 million toward a locker room for the equestrian program and $1.5 million to pay off a loan for the aquatics center.
Fresno State also invested $600,000 to resurface the tennis courts, plus $300,000 in new wrought iron fencing around Bulldog Stadium.
That investment will not change dramatically in the short term, but Castro would like to see greater investment in the Bulldogs' athletics programs.
While university support has increased, private donations have for the most part remained fairly constant between $4 million and $6 million.
"I would like to inspire more people to give and I do think that we need to broaden our base of support and have more gifts at different levels," Castro said. "We have so many generous supporters right now, I'd like to expand on it and have more families involved. Even if it's at a more modest level it still all accumulates.
"I think coach (Jeff) Tedford for example has inspired a lot of new people to come see the games. Coach (Troy) Steiner has done the same with wrestling and I think it gives us the opportunity to engage more and more people, new people, and some younger generations that will get excited and want to be involved. My hope is over time we'll see that investment increase. That's a critical part of this challenge, to have that happen."
That goal will fall to the next athletic director, who will inherit two critical openings in the department. Franklin Alegria, senior associate athletics director for external relations, resigned in January and Terry Donovan, senior associate athletics director for business operations, was hired as athletic director at Stanislaus State in March.
"The university has really invested in athletics," Castro said. "I've said before I believe academics and athletics rise together. We're going to continue to invest there in all the venues and bring them up to a quality that out student-athletes deserve, just as we're doing all the classroom projects and the other infrastructure projects."
Castro added his hope is that university investment can begin to go down, as other sources of support go up. "For example, the move to sell alcohol will help us because it will diversify some of our funding and I'm hopeful that over time I can then adjust a little on the university investment because it has been quite significant," he said.
"With the new athletic director I'm going to ask him or her to help me achieve that goal. That was the goal when we hired the last athletic director and it will continue to be a high priority for us."