UB football team spent more than $70,000 to stay in local hotels the nights before home games
Costs come from rooms and large-scale meals
The nights before home games, the UB football team leaves its scholarship-funded dorms and apartments and checks into the Ramada Hotel across the street from campus – a practice that cost the program more than $70,000 in 2014.
During stays at the Ramada that season, players and coaches feasted on a $2,300 fine-dining buffet, consisting of three meats, side dishes, salads, bread, beverages and an array of desserts. Later, for those still hungry, there was a $600 “team snack” of a submarine sandwich, a bag of chips, a cup of chicken noodle soup, fruit and one large cookie.
In the morning, the team ate a $1,300 breakfast of cereal, assorted breads, scrambled eggs, meat, pancakes, breakfast potatoes, whole fruit and assorted juices.
And four hours before kickoff, the team had a $1,600 pre-game meal of either a 6 ounce boneless chicken breast or lean steak filet, a baked potato and broccoli and a buffet offering spaghetti, meat sauce, white and wheat bread, fruit and bagels.
UB, like almost all Division I football programs across the country, stays in local hotels before its home games, and did so before all seven home games during the 2014 season, resulting in a bill of $72,562. The team spent six nights at the Ramada and one night in the Millennium Hotel. The Spectrum obtained the contract between the football team and the Ramada for the 2014 season, the most recent year available, as well as the invoice from the Millennium, via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. The Bulls have just six home games most years.
The team also spends several weeks in the Ramada during fall camp each August. The Spectrum recently submitted a FOIL request for those documents as well.
Staying in local hotels the nights before home games is practiced by most if not all Division I football programs and is part of the college football tradition. Coaches and administrators stress that it ensures players get a healthy meal and good night’s sleep away from the distractions that come with staying in a college dorm room the night before a big game.
“Do we want to have distractions or potential for distractions, or would you rather be able to have young people focus and take care of the meetings and the other things that occur to put them in the best position to be as successful as possible?” said UB Athletic Director Allen Greene. “That’s really what it comes down to.”
No other UB team regularly stays in hotels before home games, nor receives as much athletics-supplied food in preparation of the game, according to student-athletes for non-revenue sports.
Although UB’s 2014 Ramada Hotel bill was a relatively small portion of UB Athletics’ $2.7 million team travel budget, the department is heavily subsidized by institutional support and student fees. UB Athletics’ 2014-15 budget was 68 percent subsidized, as $22.1 million of its $32.1 million budget came from student fees and direct institutional support from the university.
And football is by far UB’s and all of college athletics’ most expensive sport. UB’s football team received more subsidies ($5.7 million) than any other team in the department, and without that subsidy, would have had a loss of $5.7 million.
Greene stresses that staying in hotels is a matter of “keeping up with the Joneses,” as the football team tries to remain competitive against its opponents. Seven of UB’s 11 Mid-American Conference rivals confirmed to The Spectrum that they also put their football programs in hotels before home games and provide food. The other four did not immediately respond to The Spectrum’s inquires.
And while UB spent more than $70,000 staying in hotels before home games in 2014 and probably spends roughly $60,000 most seasons, other teams spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Star-Telegram reported that the University of Texas at Austin racked up a $232,000 bill for its hotel stays before home games in 2014.
But some top athletic departments like Texas, which play in the Power 5, the top-five richest and influential conferences in the country, generate all of their own revenue through TV contracts, ticket sales and donations. Power 5 teams take in significantly less subsidies than that of universities outside of the Power 5 like UB, and in some cases like Texas, don’t need any subsidies at all.
Yet even the Power 5 has questioned football teams staying in hotels before home games. In 2009, Power 5 conference the Pac-12, then the Pac-10, considered banning hotel stays the nights before home games to save money. The proposal was withdrawn, however, due to a lack of support.
The entire UB football team did not stay at the Ramada in 2014 – only the top-68 players on the team’s more than 100-man roster. About seven coaches, mostly graduate assistants and the director of player development and director of football operations, would stay the night to supervise.
Head coach Lance Leipold, whose first season at UB was 2015 after replacing fired head coach Jeff Quinn, said the team usually has meetings, fulfills academic requirements and sometimes watches a movie in the hotel. Leipold usually addresses the team with a speech.
He said the night before his first college start as a quarterback for Division-III Wisconsin-Whitewater in the 1980s, students across the hall from his dorm threw a party until 2 a.m. The team had to leave for their game at 6 a.m.
“This way it’s a controlled environment and you have a chance to regulate some things and keep it in a good setting,” Leipold said.
Two players would share a room – each with their own bed – while the coaches received their own room. The hotel charged the team $52.40 for each room, according to the contract. On the Buffalo Ramada’s website, the rate for a room with two beds is $89 a night.
The vast majority of the team’s bill didn’t come from the rooms – it came from the food.
$44,733 – or 72 percent – of the Bulls’ Ramada bill during the 2014 season was for the various team dinners, snacks, breakfast buffets, lunches and pre-game meals.
All meals were set for 88 people, except for the team snack that was only for 80. The most expensive meal was the dinner buffet the night before the game. Those meals cost $26.51 a person, or more than $2,300 for one game, and had to be held in a “fine dining environment,” according to the contract between the team and the Ramada.
The pre-game meal was the second-most expensive meal at $18.59 a person. Former UB safety Adam Redden, who graduated after the 2014 season, said the meals were designed to prevent cramping before the game and helped prevent “heavier guys or guys with bad eating habits” from eating things like McDonald's before the game.
“That’s not the best thing for you,” Redden said.
The team also receives a meal after home games, with a buffet spread available for players in the lobby of the Murchie Family Football Center in UB Stadium. Costs for the post-game meal are not a part of the hotel bill.
The team even slept in the hotel when it would not be hitting the field until the following night. Three of the team’s seven homes game were night games in 2014, as MAC teams play mid-week night games during the month of November. The Bulls also had a nationally televised night game in September. Stays in the hotel prior to night games were more expansive than for day games.
The team was charged for two nights in the case of two of the three night games, as it would stay in the hotel the throughout game day until heading over to the stadium late in the day. To house the team for one night would typically cost $2,100, while two-nights would cost $4,200.
Day games only required four meals – a dinner buffet and team snack the night before the game, and a continental breakfast and pregame meal on game day. Night games required five meals – a dinner buffet, team snack, a breakfast buffet, lunch and pre-game meal. Per the contract, the hotel had to serve a more expensive breakfast buffet the morning before evening games. The continental breakfast was $9.81 a person, while the breakfast buffet was $15.40 a person.
The team’s most expensive stay at the Ramada that season was for a game that never even happened.
The team racked up a bill of more than $14,000 for its final home game, which was ultimately canceled due to Kent State’s equipment truck getting stuck in the historic Buffalo Snowvember snowstorm. The game was supposed to held the night of Nov. 19, 2014, but was then postponed and ultimately canceled by the MAC on Nov. 20.
While the team stayed two nights in the hotel awaiting the conference’s decision on the game, it accumulated a food bill of nearly $10,000. The team paid for its usual meals the first two days, including a “pre-game meal,” and then paid for an additional $1,300 breakfast buffet and $281 for cookies and water the morning the game was canceled.
Eastern Michigan University, UB’s MAC rival, wrote an open letter last week that it would not be dropping its football program to save money, after pressure from faculty and students to do so. Eastern Michigan Athletics is the most subsidized program in the MAC, receiving $120 million from its university and student fees from 2010-14, according to data collected by The Huffington Post and The Chronicle of Higher Education. UB Athletics was second with $110 million in subsidies during that time.
In UB’s letter explaining where campus-wide increased fees, UB Athletics cited rising travel costs as one of the reasons the student athletic fee will increase $54 over the next five years. Yet the department does not have any plans of dropping the local hotel stays.
Greene said UB Athletics reviews the budget every year with “fine-tooth comb” and questions all the decisions they make. He said if pulling something out of the budget means a team could potentially lose games or have a lesser chance of helping a student-athlete graduate, regardless of the sport, they typically won’t do it.
He said staying in hotels before home games come down to whether or not UB Athletics wants to be competitive.
“If the answer is we just want to have [intercollegiate athletics] and not be competitive then there's a certain way to approach it. If you want to have intercollegiate athletics and be competitive, then there’s a certain way to approach it,” Greene said. “There are certain things that occur throughout our industry that are commonplace. Are they necessarily needed? I guess you would have to figure out what ‘need’ means.”