WVU football: Trainer Kerns reduced the costs of meals
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Dave Kerns has been the medicine man for West Virginia football since arriving on campus in 1994 and is in charge of keeping players healthy and helping them recover from injuries.
Yet it's Kerns, of all people, who gets the pat on the back for helping the football team make the best of a flawed financial situation at the Orange Bowl.
"Dave in particular should get a lot of credit for that," said deputy director of athletics Mike Parsons. "He's the one who manages the team meals, which usually ends up being the most costly part of this."
Kerns said he's "honestly not sure how that came about," but he's planned meals for the regular season and bowl games since 1995.
"Even though, yes, it's kind of an operations position, we're medical people and part of that is the nutritional aspect," Kerns said. "Over time, I've just worked directly with the hotel rather than have the hotel deal with several people. After the first or second year, it was very easy to do."
* * *
TEAMS TRAVELING to bowl games are locked into numerous expenses. There isn't much to be done to manage things like hotel stays at places the bowl requires or transporting the team and its equipment.
Players and coaches have to eat and three meals a day for a week can generate a huge bill, but that was the one area Kerns and the Mountaineers tried to control the most.
"Bowls generally do a very good job providing certain aspects, whether that's events, gifts or meals, but where you can really start to lose control of the budget is when you add on top of that, and particularly with meals," said director of football operations Alex Hammond.
"Say the bowl is going to give you 120 meals at a place and you say, 'Well, we're going to bring 150 people.' Now you're paying (for the extras) and after a while it starts adding up and you can be looking at a significant loss."
WVU generally accommodated the right people to fit what was provided - players, coaches, support staff and parts of the traveling party. There was more work to be done, though.
"The other way to do it is take advantage of the meals the bowls provide you, and when you do have to eat you can bring in outside vendors and really control your expenses," Hammond said.
* * *
THE MOUNTAINEERS ended up losing $217,700 for the seven-night trip and, apart from the $1 million bill for tickets, the largest expense was $729,118 for lodging and meals. Both were connected to the Fontainebleu, the palatial place where WVU was made to stay for the week.
"The one thing we didn't want to do was have every meal at the hotel," Kerns said. "That's something some other teams that have gone before have done and we didn't want to get into that expense. So we researched the area a little bit and took a look at prices as far as what dinner might cost there and what other restaurants are comparable."
Yet the Fontainebleu sometimes offered a blessing with that burden. WVU spent just $4,625 on entertainment for its weeklong stay in south Florida. The Fontainebleu has a beach, a marina, pools, cabanas, two night clubs and three bars and lounges.
"It was very apparent our guys didn't need structured events because a lot of excitement happened to be contained at the hotel," Hammond said. "With the beach and the pool and the other places, there really was no reason to incur additional costs to provide things that were available at the hotel.
"People come to south Florida and the Fontainebleu because of the entertainment. There was no reason to go somewhere else and they really wanted to be to at the hotel."
The bowl provided ways around eating at the hotel and WVU created some other ideas, but breakfast at the hotel was a necessity. Kerns arranged a breakfast menu and though there wasn't much he could do about standard breakfast fare, he did find ways to save money.
"When we have meals preset they put out pitchers of orange juice, milk, water, those types of things on the table, and that's where you get into the greater cost, especially in south Florida when the hotels bill you for freshly squeezed orange juice," he said. "Rather than get into those escalated costs, we put bottles of juice, bottles of Gatorade, bottles of water, cartons of milk on the table."
The team was controlling its expense and paying for what was consumed rather than what was served.
"I didn't price out the exact cost of a pitcher of this or a pitcher of that, but what I had heard from people who made previous trips to that specific hotel was that it was $80 or $90 for a pitcher of orange juice," Kerns said. "You figure you get eight, maybe 10 glasses out of a pitcher. We were getting charged maybe $3 a bottle. For 10 people, you're saving some money there."
* * *
BREAKFAST WAS taken care of every day for the players, but there were lunches and dinners they'd have to handle on their own. For that, they were given a per diem upon arrival in Miami.
"We outlined the schedule very clearly for them," Hammond said. "There was an element of budget control from that point on."
The players didn't have to do too much, though. WVU provided a post-practice lunch at the practice site four times - subs, barbeque, chicken - which meant the players only needed to get three lunches if they wanted them.
The bowl provided four dinners at functions and had a team night at a Brazilian steakhouse. WVU had one dinner on its own.
The bowl provided four snacks late at night, generally fast food, and WVU added a fifth. Those doubled as curfew checks.
That left one dinner, but with the lunches and the late night snacks and not a whole lot of time in between, it wasn't a necessity.
The night before the game, WVU had its standard meal that the Fontainebleu agreed to serve, along with the altered beverage service: chicken cordon bleu, lasagna, prime rib, mashed potatoes, corn and an ice cream sundae desert bar.
"You try to save money, but you also don't want everyone to starve," Kerns said. "Nutrition is nutrition and if you have athletes starving, the production on the field is going to suffer."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.