YSU Basketball Teams Stay in Bounds with Budget

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown State University Director of Athletics Ron Strollo always enjoys a close Penguins basketball game. Indeed, the closer the better.

Geographically speaking, that is. 

Strollo says he has a standing request that the men’s and women’s basketball teams keep non-conference road games as close to home as possible, avoid air travel and try to schedule contests with larger universities that are within driving distance.  

For example, each team played Penn State University this season – a three-hour bus trip from Youngstown – that earned $65,000 for the men and $15,000 for the women in guaranteed income for the university.

“If you’re able to keep going by bus and generate some external revenue from game guarantees, you’re able to try to keep it closer to break even,” Strollo says. 

The annual travel budget for the men’s basketball team is $175,000, while the women’s is $100,000, Strollo says.

The General Services Administration sets per diem amounts for travel-related expenses for each city around the country. He says if he or one of his coaches goes on a trip they are limited to $30 per day. Expenses covering those traveling with a team may vary between $60 and $80 per person, depending on the city.

About 30 YSU basketball players, coaches and staff board a bus or plane en route to their destination, something done about 10 times per year for the men’s and women’s teams, respectively.

It’s up to Paul Molinari and Jason Pacanowski to make the most of that allocated money to take their respective teams on various road trips during the season.

“Once those travel budgets are approved, we try to stick to those as much as we can,” says Pacanowski, director of operations for YSU women’s basketball.

Molinari, chief of staff for the YSU men’s basketball team, says his preparation begins during the summer for non-league games. He has to wait until September when the Horizon League announces its litany of member schedules to secure those outings.

Jason Pacanowski heads YSU women’s basketball operations and makes travel arrangements for the team.

The biggest obstacle for these teams are staying within the guidelines set forth by the GSA, which reimburses its employees for travel-related expenses without creating taxable income by paying them the appropriate per diem rate. 

Molinari and Pacanowski say meals per person have increased from $2 to $7 per person. Hotels and restaurants are seeking two weeks notice for larger parties, where they didn’t require that much in the past as supply chain and employment issues are impacting the bulk of the team’s travel plans.

“With COVID and inflation, that’s become harder because hotels have raised prices, local establishments that we eat at or caterers that we use have raised prices,” Molinari says. “It’s become a little bit more challenging to stay below those guidelines – below those [GSA] numbers.” 

“Hotels and restaurants don’t have as many workers,” Pacanowski says. “Supplies are harder to get. It’s impacting us more and what we can get this year than it did last year.”

Meals after games are ordered prior to the team’s arrival through a Google Docs system, Molinari says. Sometimes the orders are done through email, but Pacanowski had to fax as well. Each order is labeled.

“If it’s not labeled, it is a complete nightmare once you get on the bus and you’re trying to hand them out,” he says.

The men’s basketball team made a trip earlier this season to Milwaukee and Green Bay, loading up on water, Gatorade, Body Armor and other snacks for the team once their plane landed in Wisconsin. 

Long lines at airport establishments often make it difficult for the group to remain on schedule, Molinari says. “Because the airports are busy, it makes it difficult with the amount of people working to get what you need. That’s a big challenge,” he says. 

For the men’s team, traveling by bus is not a challenge as it secures Campbell Bus Lines for all trips emanating from Youngstown. This YSU team has had the same bus driver for the past couple of years.

“He knows our group,” Molinari says. “He knows what the expectations are. We know what his expectations are, and it makes life easier when you get on the bus.”

In some cases, the teams have had to pivot because of the lack of hotel accommodations. The men’s team, for example, has for the last couple of seasons used a single hotel for its road trip to Michigan for the Oakland University and University of Detroit games.  In past years, the team would have used two separate hotels closer to each arena — about 30 miles apart from one another. 

Getting a hotel in the Detroit area was next to impossible because these venues would not return calls.

“We’ve tried for months. We leave messages, send emails and don’t get a response,” Pacanowski says. “Because of that we’ve had a change in what we’re doing.”

The women’s basketball team decided to follow the men’s lead and booked a central location for its Oakland-Detroit trip in mid-November. 

Teams have to schedule practice times on their opposition’s home court before game day, but that’s not always possible.  YSU might settle for practicing at its own facility or finding a nearby gymnasium.

“You have to be creative,” Pacanowski says. 

Securing the transportation, lodging and practice facilities are important before any other details of any trip are secure.

“Travel is just a big puzzle,” Pacanowski says. “You need all these pieces before we really put it together into an itinerary.”

The men and women’s basketball teams both had road contests canceled this season due to COVID-related issues.

Molinari says YSU worked with its hotel after University of Detroit Mercy called off its Dec. 30 game to make up for food not used on that trip. The men’s team did stay at the same hotel for the Jan. 1 Oakland game.

The women’s team had games on Jan. 7 at Wright State and Jan. 9 at Northern Kentucky called off its schedule.

“We saved money because we didn’t go on a whole weekend trip,” Pacanowski says. “We didn’t have the hotel costs, the bus costs, the meals on the road and everything.”

Pictured at top: Paul Molinari is chief of staff for Youngstown State men’s basketball and arranges travel for the team each season – staying under budgetary constraints.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.