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The Miners' Millions: Digging through UTEP's athletics budget

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The UTEP Athletics Department spends millions of dollars every year, but spending that money hasn't turned into winning seasons.

UTEP's new athletic director, Jim Senter, is in charge of a department that spent more than $32 million in the 2016-2017 school year, according to the university's filings with the NCAA.

Those expenses are comparable with the University of North Texas and the University of Texas, San Antonio, both Conference USA schools.

UTEP's executive vice president, Richard Adauto, said that number is higher than the actual athletics budget.

"The NCAA audit counts things differently, so those expenses are way too high," he said. "Our expenses are more around ($)22 (million) to ($)23 million."

CBS 4 On Your Side filed an open records request for five years of the athletics department's budget history.

The documents show ticket sales dropped from $3 million to more than $2 million dollars in that time period.

"We've got to win more games," Senter said. "We've got to get more people to come back into our stadium and buy our product."

The Miners last winning football season in 2014 brought an increase in ticket sales, from $929,354 the year before to $1,153,726.

Sales dropped by nearly 50 percent to $582,469 the next season when the team went 5-7. Ticket sales ticked up to $970,383 in 2016, despite another losing season.

Numbers for the Miners 2017 winless season won't be released until January 2019.

"It's going to be tight, it really is," Adauto said. "Because obviously, as you described, a winless season."

Adauto said there's give and take in the budget. The pot where money for athletics comes from also includes concerts, the bookstore and student organizations. When one part, like athletics doesn't meet expectations, revenue from the others, like September's Guns 'N Roses concert, covers it.

"The revenue from that concert is unexpected in some sense because we weren't scheduling a Guns 'N Roses concert when we were doing the budget. So the revenue from that concert will be used for things like athletics," Adauto said.

Winning season for football and men's basketball are especially important for the entire athletics department. They're typically the only two sports that bring in more than they spend, according to Senter.

"There's a lot of pressure on those two major sports to generate the revenue to carry the department," Senter said.

At UTEP in 2016, football was in the red by more than $3 million. Senter said few athletics departments around the country cover all their expenses.

"The challenge in the model for intercollegiate athletics is you have two streams of revenue that generate the most revenue, and you might have 14-24 sports that don't generate revenue, and frankly, are costing more money than they will ever bring in," Senter said.

Senter said no sports are at risk of being cut due to financial reasons.

Over the last five years, the UTEP athletics department has consistently been somewhere between $13 million and $15 million in debt, according to the NCAA reports.

Adauto said it hasn't reached the point of affecting other parts of the university.

"We've had some lean years," Adauto said. "I don't think we've had a dire circumstance to be honest with you."

Senter said it's not lost on him the challenge he faces, but he plans to dig deep in the Miners family to bring fans back to UTEP.

"We have enough of the resources here to leverage athletics and put El Paso on the map," he said. "There's no reason we can't have an athletics program that matches the great stature of this institution."

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