Canes cancel 2 flights, save $140K

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Mindful of the ongoing economic downturn, Miami's football team will charter buses instead of planes this fall for trips to Central Florida and South Florida.

The decision by coach Randy Shannon will save Miami $140,000, athletic director Kirby Hocutt said Tuesday.

"You know how the economy is right now. It's really tough," Shannon said. "I look across a lot of the programs in the country and everyone's making these cuts. So it's a financial benefit to us, and it works out in terms of the time situations as well."

Originally, the school planned to fly for those trips to Orlando and Tampa, cities that both are approximately three-to-four-hour drives from the Hurricanes' campus. But in an uncertain economy, Hocutt has told his department to spend wisely, part of a newly installed 44-point plan to get the Hurricanes through what he called "a critical economic time."

"The economic situation that we face within our athletics department is no different than businesses across our state and our country are facing," said Hocutt, whose department announced some layoffs last month.

Numerous schools, both public and private, have announced belt-tightening or other measures deemed necessary by the sharp economic downturn nationwide. Stanford is bracing to lose $5 million off what it was expecting from athletics over the next three years, and some schools are concerned that programs could be dissolved entirely to save money.

Hocutt says Miami isn't in such trouble.

"We're all concerned about the situation, the downturns that could affect our season-ticket holders, our donations," Hocutt said. "We're not to a position where we're considering the elimination of any programs. However, we are taking measures within our department to make sure we're as prudent and as efficient as possible."

That 44-point plan, Hocutt said, includes things like making sure all flights taken for athletic department purposes are booked at least 21 days ahead of time, a move that typically results in getting the lowest possible fares.

School officials were not certain the last time Miami's football team didn't fly to a road game, other than noting it has been at least 10 years. The Hurricanes flew to Gainesville to play the eventual national champion Florida Gators last season.

The savings of just those two flights is significant, Hocutt said. However, the Hurricanes will fly as planned to their other in-state game next season: Miami is expected to open the year in Tallahassee against Florida State, although the schedule will not be formally announced by the Atlantic Coast Conference until Thursday morning.

"Going to Tallahassee, that's almost an eight-hour trip for us, a brutal trip," Shannon said. "That's too tough."

Miami's annual athletic department budget is about $60 million, $24 million of which comes from football season-ticket sales and renewals. The school unveiled its pricing plan for the coming season Tuesday, and 15,000 seats -- roughly 20 percent of the capacity of Dolphin Stadium -- will be offered at lower costs than in 2008.

Excluding club seating and family only sections, season ticket packages last season ranged from $199 (over one end zone in the upper deck) to $775 (for seats between the 30-yard-lines on the lower level). For 2009, those packages will range from $119 to $775, with some single-game seats available for $19 and certain season packages in family sections offered at $99.

By late March or early April, after the annual renewal drive has started in earnest, Hocutt said he'll have a better idea how Miami will pull through the tough economic times.

"Is it something that I wake up and think about every day? Yes. Is it something that we're talking about to our coaches, to our unit leaders? Yes," Hocutt said. "Do we know the effects that it's going to have on our department? Not yet."