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CU Buffs athletics trying to navigate uncertain future

Amid coronavirus pandemic, athletic director Rick George avoiding major budget cuts for now

Colorado athletic director Rick George said cutting sports to save money is not in the plan right now.
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado athletic director Rick George said cutting sports to save money is not in the plan right now.

The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic on college athletics could be significant, but for the time being, Colorado is surveying the situation before making any cuts.

During a conference call with media on Thursday, CU athletic director Rick George said, “We’re trying to be methodical in our approach to this.”

George said he believes CU will finish the 2020 fiscal year, which ends June 30, in the black.

“I’m confident of that and that’s why we haven’t moved as quickly,” he said. “Now we’re really focused on the budgeting process for 2020-21 and hopefully by the end of this month, early May, we’ll have more clarity on what that looks like.”

Around the country, some athletic departments have already announced some cuts, including Cincinnati eliminating its men’s soccer program and Washington State announcing salary and bonus reductions for coaches and administrators.

CU has not made any of those decisions yet, but George said, “Everything is on the table. We’re having those discussions and we’re talking through what that might look like.

“I would absolutely be the first one to take a pay cut.”

George added that CU has no current plans of eliminating any sports.

“Right now, we don’t have a sport that we would cut,” he said. “Eliminating a sport is way, way, way down the list.”

Last month, the spring sports season was canceled and there is uncertainty about the fall sports season – whether it will start on time in August, get pushed back to as late as 2021 or canceled all together.

With so much unknown, George said, “It’s challenging to figure that out, but I’ve got a good team together that’s looking at all of that. Our conference (athletic directors) meet a couple times a week; we’re meeting with the NCAA a couple times a week. There’s a lot of discussion. It’s hard to plan for a scenario that you don’t know.”

There will be a financial hit to the department this summer, however.

The university has suspended all on-campus events through July 31, which has caused CU to cancel all of its summer sports camps. The Dead & Company concerts at Folsom Field scheduled for July 10-11 will not be held, either.

George said the cancellation of the summer camps will impact the head and assistant coaches “because of the revenue that they may be able to get that would support their salary here. That will be tough.”

CU’s budget for the 2019 fiscal year showed a net profit of roughly $567,000 from summer camps, but George said there won’t be much overall impact to the budget.

Losing the Dead & Company concerts will impact CU athletics, however.

Outside events – which includes Dead & Company concerts, weddings and other private functions – netted CU athletics a profit of $1,757,952 during the 2018-19 fiscal year. CU budgeted for a profit of more than $2 million from outside events for the 2020 fiscal year, although this year’s Dead & Company shows would fall under the 2021 budget.

Dead & Company concerts, which have been held annually at Folsom Field since 2016, represent a large chunk of that profit from outside events. According to a Daily Camera report in 2017, CU athletics netted nearly $700,000 from the 2016 shows.

George said there are conversations to reschedule the concerts. It’s unclear how many other outside events will be impacted.

In the short term, CU athletics will save some money this spring. All of CU’s spring sports lose money each year, but canceling the season reduces expenses, such as travel, game management and staff. With coaches in all sports being unable to travel for recruiting, there is savings there, as well.

“There has some been savings in those areas and that’s part of what offsets some of the decreases in revenue that we’ve been able to get,” George said.

Moving forward, George said CU’s top priority when making financial decisions will be the student-athletes and, in particular, the programs in place to support them: academics, mental health, nutrition, leadership and career development, and sports medicine.

“The areas that support our student athletes are going to be paramount in our decision making,” he said.

For now, CU is avoiding major budget cuts, while trying to plan for various scenarios. Nobody can predict what the future will hold, but George is expecting college athletics to look different in the future.

“There’s been other significant events in our history and we know the before and after are different,” he said. “We anticipate the after here is going to be different, too. You’ve got to be quick to adapt and I think having all these different discussions with a variety of leaders around the country are helpful in being ready for whatever that is.”

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