OGDEN — The new coronavirus pandemic has tightened the financial clamps for every college athletic department in the country.
The main culprit is a drastic reduction in revenue caused by the cancellation of the 2019 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, lessening the money distributed to conferences for the 2019-20 athletic year.
The sum of that revenue distribution dropped from an expected $600 million to $225 million, or about 60% less than expected. Most athletic department budget shortages are impacted at least as much as that.
Drastic measures to combat that have resulted in some schools eliminating sports programs. Seven Division I schools are known to have eliminated programs, including Akron dropping men’s cross country, men’s golf and women’s tennis; East Carolina eliminating tennis and swimming for both men and women; Bowling Green cutting baseball and Central Michigan dropping men’s track.
Not in the works at Weber State, athletic director Tim Crompton says.
“That’s certainly not anything we’re planning on doing, for sure. That’s not anything that’s on the table or even a topic of discussion at Weber State is cutting sports,” he said.
He acknowledged it’s hard to grapple with those topics for school administrators.
“I think those circumstances weigh heavily on an institution’s level of preparedness and the situation they’re in. I know everybody is doing the very best they can no matter where they are,” Crompton said. “Any institution that is having to or thinking about cutting sports, that’s not an easy decision and weighs heavily on them in having to make those choices.”
What helps programs like Weber State is that the Big Sky Conference has already made decisions for six sports in 2020-21 that involve shortening league schedules and changing their format, and making changes to conference tournaments.
In men’s and women’s basketball, for instance, conference schedules will be reduced from 20 games to 16. That could allow teams to schedule additional big programs to take in payout money, schedule teams close to home that require minimal travel costs, or choose not to play some or all of those four open games. That’s a one-year-only change.
In volleyball, the schedule will drop from 18 games to 16 and the number of road trips each team will take is reduced from nine to four. That’s accomplished by having teams play matches on consecutive days of a weekend during the same road trip. It’s a change announced for next season only but could feasibly remain into the future.
In soccer, the 2020 conference tournament has been eliminated.
There have been some savings elsewhere at WSU due to the pandemic, namely what is possibly the most cost-efficient recruiting offseason in men’s basketball history. An eight-player recruiting class will have been secured without making hardly any visits or hosting any recruits; the NCAA has prohibited both types of travel since March, lasting until at least June 30.
Another way athletic departments are trying to mitigate losses, sometimes counted in millions of dollars, is by laying off employees, furloughing others and/or mandating pay reductions.
“Every institution has its own set of circumstances but, at Weber State, it’s not a consideration to be furloughing or cutting pay in our department,” Crompton said.
WSU already operates with a tight belt, so to speak, so the prospect of mass layoffs or furloughs isn’t a realistic option. Power schools with massive budgets that draw from enormous TV revenues typically spend as much as they take in, employing large operations staffs and support personnel to boost their athletic programs.
In April, the University of Louisville eliminated 40 positions from its athletic department, furloughed another 45 employees for a minimum of 60 days, and cut the pay of the athletic director, senior staff and all head coaches by 10%.
In a less drastic move, Boise State mandated seven-day furloughs for any athletic department employee making more than $40,000 per year and 10-day furloughs for anyone paid $150,000 or more — the latter encompassing nearly every football coach and the head men’s and women’s basketball coaches.
Weber State will surely look to recoup losses where able, but Crompton said action related to employees’ earnings is not an avenue he wants to drive down.
“At Weber State as a whole, we’re doing everything we can to move forward. It’s not anything we’re planning on doing ... that’s not a consideration for us,” he said about furloughs and cuts.