A lot is at stake when Columbus East and Columbus North square up in athletics, and not just school pride and bragging rights.
The crosstown rivalries also boost the athletics departments’ budgets for the host school.
Thousands of fans will pack the gymnasiums when the Olympians host the Bull Dogs in girls basketball Thursday night, followed by East at North in boys basketball Friday night.
Basketball is the most profitable sport at the city’s two high schools, and the North-East games are by far the biggest dates on the schedule.
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Since the athletics departments are mostly self-sustaining, revenue from these events goes a long way in helping the schools cover expenses for 21 sanctioned sports.
During the 2015-16 school year, East generated revenues of $194,569 and spent $202,169 across all of its sports programs. North brought in $146,844 and spent $152,829.
Money brought in by the schools’ booster clubs help make up for the shortfalls.
East athletics director Pete Huse and North athletics director Jeff Hester both said they were surprised that East’s sports revenues and expenditure were about 32 percent higher than North’s, despite North being a much bigger high school.
Football expenses at the two schools made up the greatest share of the disparity. With East’s athletics department spending $49,340 more than North in total athletics department spending, 83 percent of the difference — $40,758 — can be directly attributed to football.
With equipment the biggest cost for football programs, one factor in cost differences between the East and North football programs is the number of players suiting up. When East and North met the second week of the football season, the Olympians had 83 varsity players compared to 70 for the Bull Dogs.
The salaries of coaches and other athletics department staff are not included in the total department expenses, as those costs are paid by Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. at the district level. The school district also picks up 20 percent of the transportation costs, athletics directors said.
“But after that, we have to make everything,” said Bob Gaddis, Columbus East football coach and former East athletics director.
Similar to college athletic revenues, football is the biggest money-maker and the biggest cost for both the East and North high school programs.
East’s football program brought in $77,949 and spent $73,274 last school year. North had $29,558 in revenues and spent $32,515 on its football program.
The key to that revenue difference came when the Olympians netted $23,100 from presale ticket sales and gate receipts for its home football game against the Bull Dogs. This single event represented nearly one-eighth of the East athletics department’s total revenues for the 2015-16 school year.
But not only did the Olympians host the North-East football game, they entertained the Bull Dogs in soccer and boys basketball as well.
With the boys/girls soccer doubleheader bringing in $5,369 in revenues and the boys basketball game generating another $7,690, receipts from those three events covered about one-fifth of the expenses for its 21 sports sanctioned by the IHSAA.
North did not list any revenues for boys or girls cross-country, tennis or golf, while East’s revenues in those sports were minimal during the 2015-16 school year.
But Hester said those sports, along with others, are important to give students who aren’t football or basketball players a chance to play competitive athletics.
“It’s all about involvement,” Hester said. “We believe here that extracurricular activities are part of the students’ whole school experience and can help their development as they grow into adulthood. Everybody has something that they’re interested in, and when they find that team that they feel comfortable with or can excel in, it’s a positive experience for them.”
Boys basketball was the most profitable sport for both schools. East generated $25,819 and spent $11,798, a profit in excess of $14,000. North made $22,004 and spent $11,595.
“Tennis, golf, cross-country — those are the sports that can survive because of football and basketball,” Huse said. “It doesn’t matter what school you’re at, that’s generally going to be the case.”
North’s girls basketball team, which was coming off the Class 4A state championship the year before and finished as state runner-up last season, also turned a significant profit. The program brought in $22,234, while spending $12,215.
Hester, who is in his ninth year as North athletics director, said the revenue surplus has a direct correlation to the team’s success.
“The more successful a team is, the more people want to come and watch them,” Hester said. “That’s not only true at the professional level and at the collegiate level, but that also holds true at the high school level.”
Last year, North spent $20,877 transporting its athletes and coaches to and from events, not counting costs covered by the school district. East spent $12,198.
Hester said North’s travel expenses were high because the Bull Dogs made deep tournament runs in several sports, leading to longer trips.
After transportation, the next biggest expenditures are uniforms, officials, equipment and athletics training supplies.
With equipment the biggest cost for football programs, North spent $11,858 and East spent $9,648 reconditioning shoulder pads and helmets last year.
Gaddis said East reconditions helmets and shoulder pads every year. Because of upgraded safety measures, the life of a football helmet has been cut back to five years.
“When those things cycle through and you get hit with a year where you maybe have to get 25 to 30 helmets, that’s a lot of money,” Gaddis said.
Gaddis said with increasing concerns about safety, equipment is being invented and manufactured to help take away contact during practice and minimize the risk of concussions and other injuries. The Indiana High School Athletic Association limits teams to two days of contact per week, so East is using shadowman and hand-held tackling dummies and new rugby tackling rings to simulate tackling on non-contact days.
When Gaddis was athletics director, he said he tried to do things to keep his players safe in all sports.
“We don’t want to ever say, ‘We can’t get that because we don’t have the money,’” Gaddis said. “We always say, ‘We’re going to find a way to get that,’ and that’s when sometimes, booster clubs come in and will help you through some lean times.”
The booster clubs
The way booster clubs operate at East and North are vastly different.
At East, most sports have their own booster clubs, the most notable being the Quarterback Club for the football program. At North, the CNHS Athletic Booster Club helps subsidize the entire athletic program.
Hester said his booster club brings in $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
“Without my booster club, we would not be able to survive,” Hester said.
Last year, the Quarterback Club helped provide for two new sets of uniforms for the East football team. This year, Gaddis plans to look for safety equipment for the program.
After Gaddis talks to the Quarterback Club in January and indicates what he needs help with, the club can raise those funds for those specific projects.
“I’ve been involved where there was one big booster club,” Gaddis said. “Sometimes that works, but what I dealt with at other schools, let’s say that you’re a parent (of a kid) in a sport, and you come and help out at all the concession stands and all the fundraisers, and you see another sport not represented, and then they give them money. Sometimes that can cause jealousies.”
Several other factors can influence how much money a school makes from a particular game or season. A big one is the weather.
Weather affects spring sports — namely baseball and softball — more than any others. As a result, because of rainouts in the spring, baseball and softball revenues fell short of expenditures at both North and East.
Another big factor is the size of crowd an opponent brings.
“You make your money from your visitors,” Hester said. “Then, if it’s an outdoor sport, you’re counting on good weather. There was one year it rained every Friday night (during football season), and it really hurt our gates.”
With sectional football and basketball events, the IHSAA gets 2 percent, and the remaining 98 percent is split among all the teams in sectional. Huse said hosting tournaments in sports such as soccer, gymnastics and tennis results in a loss because that money goes to the IHSAA.
Huse, who previously had been the athletics director at Greenwood, said that because of his experience, he wasn’t caught by any surprises in his first year at East.
“For me, it’s more of having a better idea of expenditures,” Huse said. “You make adjustments of what you allow teams to spend on uniforms. You can’t get as much equipment as you want. You just have to tighten the belt. When you’re making so much money, and all of a sudden you have these expenses, you have to find out where you can stop spending some of the money.”
Huse said having that East-North rivalry is how the athletics departments survive. Next year, when the Olympians host the East-North football, soccer and boys games, he will earmark some of that money for the following year.
Meanwhile, at North, Hester is looking for a little bigger financial year this year since the Bull Dogs have hosted the Olympians in football and soccer and will host East in boys basketball on Friday night.
“At the end of the day, the keys are North-East. If you host those three, you can breathe a little easier in those years,” Hester said.
Sport-by-sport revenue and expenditures for Columbus East and Columbus North athletics for the 2015-16 school year:
;Columbus East;Columbus North