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Get creative to manage athletic transportation budgets

This is an excerpt from NIAAA's Guide to Interscholastic Athletic Administration by National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA).

Transportation Budget Management

The overall athletic budget will obviously need to include transportation but cannot consume the entire pool of funds earmarked for athletics. As the cost of transporting athletes continues to increase, it is important to be creative.

Prudent budget management is expected of athletic administrators, even when scheduling travel to correspond with league schedules set three or four years in advance of the game dates. This expectation includes some form of controlling recurrent transportation costs and perhaps could include finding alternative funding. Sound financial management of the transportation budget during stable and challenging economic periods enhances public confidence along with that of the senior administrators and the school board directors.

Not every school district situation is similar, but commonalities exist that should be examined and implemented when prudently managing an athletic transportation budget. Leagues and conferences should include idea-sharing opportunities on their meeting agendas at least twice a year.

A growing and popular choice for funding athletic departments is the “pay to play” model. This model can be formulated to have a specific role that may include funding the transportation of athletes. This strategy along with fund-raising is increasingly used to balance transportation budgets. Athletic directors should exercise caution when implementing this model. In some cases, events are canceled and not rescheduled. In this case, patrons may ask that contributions be refunded. Conversely, contributors may also indicate a desire to contribute their unused funds to the entire athletic transportation budget for transporting athletes instead of a specific sport fund.

Transportation costs are typically one of the largest athletic budget categories, usually second only to salaries and benefits. Because there are some discretionary cost-reduction measures that may be instituted with transportation budgets, the following sections discuss some practical cost-saving measures currently in use throughout the United States.

Pairing Teams

A common technique used to create savings is to place two or more teams together on the same bus when traveling to the same contest site or to locations that are in reasonable proximity. This method can be implemented and enhanced through analysis, creative scheduling at the league or conference level, specific vehicle selection, and making sure the paired teams will be in the same area on a specific date and time. These arrangements must be discussed with the involved coaching staffs and the bus driver so all understand the intent and level of cooperation needed to efficiently coordinate efforts. It is important to plan and publish paired-team transportation schedules well in advance because squad numbers can be used to determine a compatible match. In addition, pairing opposite-gender teams may require dedication of various bus seating sections to a particular team, with coaches distributed accordingly and expectations stated.

Delivery or Drop Only

As a more austere measure, athletic directors have been forced to adopt a system wherein sports teams are picked up at school and delivered to the competition site by a school or contracted carrier. Upon delivery, the bus and driver are released from further responsibilities. In this system, parents or other adults are responsible for meeting and returning athletes to the home school after a contest.

If this method is selected, care must be taken to ensure safety and security of the athletes. To begin, the athletic director should consult with the school or district legal counsel and risk management team or insurance carrier to determine the risk exposure of the school or district when implementing this model. In addition, an attorney must develop a document used for preseason orientation meetings and in handbooks for coaches, parents, and athletes to clearly explain the responsibilities of all involved. Along with other contents of the school athletic code, the entire “delivery or drop only” process should be acknowledged in writing by a parent or legal guardian and kept on file in the athletic office.

Risk management efforts must be followed by extensive publicity through school and public media outlets. Preseason team and parent orientation meetings present another opportunity to ensure all parties understand the requirements. In this model, school personnel, parents, and athletes must make cooperative efforts to monitor the security of athletes after competition. After an event, one or more members of the coaching staff must remain at the competition site to ensure no athlete is left without a confirmed, safe ride.

Student Self-Transport

The least desirable and most drastic measure is to have athletes transport themselves to off-campus events. This measure should be clearly defined in terms of approved destinations. In most cases, out-of-town driving is prohibited, while in-town transportation may be authorized. In addition, there may be need to curtail student drivers from transporting other students to a competition or practice site.

In any case, the entire concept of student transportation requires extensive discussion with legal counsel, insurance carriers, parents, senior administration, and the governance board before implementation. Existing models include the following:

  • Defining a suggested mileage radius within which athletes are allowed to transport themselves
  • Completely prohibiting student driving as a school transportation policy
  • Prohibiting student drivers from transporting other athletes
  • Allowing convoys of coaches and parents to drive to and from various sites but requiring vehicle maintenance certifications and minimum insurance levels

In all cases, the athletic director must provide clear driving directions to the opponent's facility, the required time of arrival, any special or required group travel, and parking directions. In addition, school personnel should conduct pretrip research to ascertain the potential for imminent hazardous weather conditions or highway detours so that prudent decisions can be made and accurate directions given.

Reduced Rental Agreements

Another potential cost-saving choice is to create a business contract with a national or regional rental company for rentals throughout a school year. For these contracts, a negotiated rate, unlimited mileage, vehicle usage limitations, and the overall process should be agreed on. This type of contract can be very effective if gasoline prices fluctuate significantly, although the rental company may include an escalator clause to account for changes in fuel price. This may be the most cost-efficient method in the sense that the rental company has responsibility for vehicle maintenance and compliance with federal and state safety regulations. Coaches who transport athletes in rental vehicles may be required to acquire certain licensure.

The school or district may be required to submit a driving abstract that clears district personnel to drive vans for athlete transportation. As a related matter, some states require a type II bus driver certification, which allows a designated school official to transport athletes in a vehicle that has a capacity of more than 10 persons but fewer than 16. Athletic personnel should make regular use of school and rental agency forms and agreements that document dates, purpose of vehicle use, usage times, mileage, number of passengers in the vehicle, destination, rental cost of the vehicle, and the number of gallons of gasoline used. The athletic director or transportation coordinator must ensure that specific state laws and guidelines are implemented in addition to all existing federal mandates when renting or using vehicles other than regulated buses.

Ongoing Assessment

Documentation and data collection can be used from previous transportation budgets to create the next year's schedule. With previous knowledge and experience, an athletic director can be better prepared to face obstacles during the upcoming sports year. New and veteran athletic administrators must dedicate time to review and evaluate current policies and practices related to the transporting of athletes to school district-approved events.

Constantly seek innovative ideas and best practices to enhance safe student-­athlete travel. Institute a process for assessing, monitoring, and adjusting the transportation program to minimize risk to athletes and coaches. Count on the fact that change is inevitable, and continuously research the most efficient and effective practices in the area of transportation.

Learn more about NIAAA's Guide to Interscholastic Athletic Administration.

More Excerpts From NIAAA's Guide to Interscholastic Athletic Administration