UNI pep band to stay home

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  • While the UNI pep band traditionally makes an appearance at both men’s and women’s conference basketball tournaments to support the Panthers, Professor Justin Mertz, associate director of bands, was informed in July that the funds for the band’s travel would not be available this year due to budget cuts.

  • According to UNI Athletics Director David Harris, the rising cost of intercollegiate athletics has had financial effects on not only the pep band, but also staffing within the department.

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Due to budget cuts, pep band will not travel to conference tournaments this year

The spirit-filled tunes of the pep band are a longstanding staple of UNI basketball games. However, any UNI basketball appearances in conference tournaments will be noticeably quieter this season.

Due to budget cuts within UNI Athletics, the pep bands will not travel to the conference tournaments for men’s and women’s basketball this year. The men’s basketball Missouri Valley Conference tournament is annually held in St. Louis, Mo., and the women’s conference tournament has been held in Moline, Ill., for the past six years.

Professor Justin Mertz, associate director of bands, explained that pep band is a partnership between the School of Music, the College of Humanities, Arts & Sciences and UNI Athletics.

“The School of Music and the college provide equipment in the form of instruments and the human resource directors to run the group, to rehearse the group, run the group, manage the group and conduct the group at all men’s and women’s home basketball games,” he said.

“The athletic department provides things like the band polo shirts and a fund for scholarships which, until this year, was used to incentivise students to travel to the post-season conference tournaments and or NCAA basketball tournaments,” 

This year, however, Mertz said that he received the news in July that due to budget cuts, the band would not be funded to travel to those tournaments.

“It came out of nowhere, but it wasn’t completely surprising,” Mertz said. “Campuswide there have been financial and budget challenges, and the athletic department is no exception to that.  It was not something we thought we would hear, but we weren’t surprised to hear it.”

UNI Athletics Director David Harris stated that the decision to cut funding for the pep band’s travel was not an easy one.

“As we were going through the budgeting process for [Fiscal Year] 23, we had been looking at all of our revenue and all of our expense and our responsibility to be able to submit a balanced budget for the athletics department and unfortunately, this ended up being an area that we had to eliminate for this year just because of a lack of funding to be able to provide this opportunity for the band,” Harris said.

The pep band is not the only area that has been recently affected by budget cuts in the athletic department. Harris said that this year they have had to make a number of difficult decisions to eliminate job positions or leave certain positions vacant within the department

For Harris, there is no single major cause that led to increased budget cuts for 2023. 

“I think for us, the cost of intercollegiate athletics is always increasing, and so it becomes an annual process for us to look and see where we stand and what we need to do to be able to make sure that we’re financially sound for the next year,” he said.

Aside from general higher costs, Harris said that there has been a big push recently from the NCAA to better support student athletes.

“There’s a big emphasis now on trying to make sure that student athletes have the appropriate support across the board, and that’s certainly an upcoming challenge for us as we look at our finances,” he said.

While the pep band plans to only play in Cedar Falls this year, the decision to ground them is not necessarily a permanent one.

“As I said, these are annual decisions, so making the decision one year doesn’t mean that this will happen in the future. For us, if there’s even something that happens within this fiscal year that provides funding that we hadn’t been able to identify previously, then we certainly would want to make that funding available sometime between now and the tournament to allow the band to be able to go,” Harris said. “I don’t anticipate that happening, but certainly if that were identified, we’d want to be able to do that.”

Even though the budget cuts were not the results the band was hoping for, Mertz approaches the situation with understanding. “I don’t think this is an act of malfeasance or neglect or anyone doing something wrong, I just think it’s an unfortunate reality of the current climate,” he said.

“I think the student athletes enjoy having the same kind of support they would get at their home stadium at the post-season tournaments, I definitely hope that we will be able to reinstate that if it ever became possible again,” Mertz said.

Mertz also specified that the scholarship fund that was previously used to fund travel is still available to financially support pep band students in other ways.

Harris echoed appreciation for the band, saying, “I would just say that we think that the presence of the band is important for us, certainly at our home games, and as well as any opportunity that they have to travel on the road whether it’s a game at an opposing team’s venue or a tournament.”

“We recognize the value of that, but when you’re staring at a financial reality that dictates that you can’t afford to make that investment, then you have to pay attention to that and make the best decision that you can for the entire department. We look forward to the opportunity to be able to provide that funding at some point in the future so that this can be reinstated,” Harris said.