Through all the contingency planning, through all the hypothetical scenarios, one fact that has been lurking in the background as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to radically alter, if not cancel, the college football season in 2020.
If a Power Five institution, for whatever reason, does not have a football season, the economics of its athletic department collapse, and a dire situation ensues.
That point was hammered home Wednesday afternoon by Mark Harlan.
Less than 24 hours after the Pac-12 postponed all sports, including football, until at least Jan. 1, the University of Utah’s athletic director said he believes his athletic department is looking at a $50-60 million loss with no football on a fiscal 2021 operating budget of $91 million budget. That number, Harlan told reporters on a Zoom call, “could be more depending on various different elements.”
On July 10, Harlan told reporters his projected operating budget had been slashed by $8 million, while he, football coach Kyle Whittingham and men’s basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak all took salary cuts.
“We understand that that is going to cause us to have to make some very difficult decisions as it relates to the operation of our department this year,” Harlan said. “We know it’s going to be a really tough road ahead, but we’ve been working cooperatively with university leadership. Certainly our conference, which has been reported, has provided options that we will continue to explore, but we don’t hide from the fact that it’s going to be a great challenge for us going forward.”
Harlan’s mentioning of options the Pac-12 has provided are in reference to a massive loan program the league is planning in an effort to help its athletic department make ends meet.
According to a report last week from Jon Wilner of The Mercury News, the loan would provide a maximum of $83 million for each university at a rate of 3.75% over 10 years. It is unclear if Harlan would seek the full $83 million from the Pac-12, but even a fraction of that would be beneficial in avoiding department layoffs and potential there may be in Salt Lake City to cut so-called “non-revenue sports.”
When asked Wednesday about potential layoffs of coaches or staff, Harlan balked, but he did reiterate what Utah and the Pac-12 have said multiple times over the last few weeks, that athletic scholarships for those affected will be safe.
“We’re going to have to really focus on student forward-facing, development-type opportunities, and really focus in on their academics, and certainly the physical and mental preparedness that they would need whenever they play again,” Harlan said.
Utah’s NCAA Revenue and Expense Report for each fiscal year from 2014-19 is publicly available online. In each fiscal year, football revenue has gone up, In fiscal 2019, Utah football brought in $65.7 million, while its net assets were $34.6 million. The $65.7 million accounted for two-thirds of all athletic-department revenue over that time period.
Netting $34.6 million from football alone means the deficit accrued by “non-revenue sports” can be made up.
In fiscal 2019, Utah gymnastics, which has long been a national power and regularly fills the 15,000-seat Huntsman Center, finished in the red to the tune of $1.845 million. What Utah labels as “other sports” lost $13.21 million.
In total, Utah’s athletic department brought in $99.53 million, but wound up netting just $3.79 million.
“Other sports” include women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, and women’s cross country, all of which are fall sports impacted by the Pac-12′s decision to postpone.