The State Board of Regents has approved a plan by the University of Northern Iowa to reduce — but not cut out completely — the funding the school gives to its sports programs. The board asked the state schools in March to present plans to make cut out or reduce the funds given to the athletic departments.

U.N.I. president Benn Allen, says they studied the issue and believe sports are an important part of the balance of the education they provide along with academics, and the arts. Allen says there’s a question about how much of a balance there should be among the different activities, but he feels sports are important. He says the second issue is that they need to support sports at a level that doesn’t reduce the academic support and safety of the athletes while allowing them to be competitive.

The regents met on the U.N.I. campus Thursday, and Allen told them the sports teams offer a benefit across the university. “The existence of athletics, and I can give you some examples of this, allows us to gain visibility of our great institution up here in Cedar Falls,” Allen said.

Allen says they looked into raising students fees to help support athletics, but decided against that. They also looked into requiring the sports to pay for themselves, but decided it was best to reduce the funding to 2.4%.

“We cannot operate our athletic program as a self-sustaining auxiliary,” Allen said, “I do not know of any division one program that plays our level of football — that’s FCS football — that is self-sustaining.” He says they believe the plan to operate the program while still receiving university funding is realistic. Part of the plan includes having the Panther football team play another game against a B-C-S Bowl level team.

They currently have a contract to play either Iowa State or Iowa through 2017, with an average payout for playing those games at around $400,000. Athletic director Troy Dannen says it will take a couple of years before they could get another payout game on the schedule.

Dannen says they have an opening in their schedule in the 2013 fiscal year that would allow them add a second game that would guarantee a 400 or $500,000 payout. He says the reorganization of the Big 10 and Big 12 does limit them in playing regional game. Dannen says they have discussed adding the extra game against the B-C-S school with football coach Mark Farley to be sure such a game wouldn’t hurt the program.

Dannen says the difference between the two levels of schools is 22 scholarships, but Farley believes it would not compromise the student welfare. Dannen says it would put their backs against the wall when it comes to playoff qualification, as F-C-S schools are year-in and year-out not expected to have success against the higher level — although he says U.N.I. has had its fair share of success in these games.

The Panthers were two blocked field goals away from upsetting Iowa last season.

The plan approved by the regents would cut the U.N..I athletic support by around $200,000 in the next four years to $4.2-million. Iowa State University president, Gregory Geoffroy, told the regents his school is ready to cut all university support for sports.

Geoffroy says the plan is to reduce the support of athletics to zero by the end of this fiscal year, and says they have already been reducing the amount of support. Iowa State currently provides $1.6-million in athletic department support. The University of Iowa cut out its athletic support from general funds in 2007.

See the complete athletic funding proposals here: Regents Athletic Funding PDF