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CU Buffs preparing for fall sports, bracing for worst

Colorado athletic director Rick George hopeful, but coronavirus pandemic has put fall season in limbo

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado athletic director Rick George is hopeful there will be a fall sports season, but is bracing for the worst because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Colorado athletic director Rick George and his staff are doing all they can to prepare for a fall sports season.

They’re also bracing for what could be a financially devastating season without any games.

On Monday, Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard sent a letter to the Cyclones’ community that stated the athletic department could lose about $40 million in unfunded expenses because of the coronavirus pandemic if there is no college football this fall.

In a Zoom call with media on Monday afternoon, George said the impact on CU would be “around that number.”

“How will we mitigate that? There’s a number of ways we’ll mitigate it and we’ll look at our operating budgets,” George said. “Everything that we have in our budget is on the table for us to be able to make this 20-21 academic year, competitive year as successful as we can. Everything’s on the table.”

CU depends heavily on revenue generated from ticket sales, television and private donations. Without a season, much of that could go away.

George and all of CU’s head coaches have already taken voluntary pay cuts for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Asked if a second round of pay cuts could be possible if there’s no football season, George said, “I think at that point every option is on the table. … We will look at that, we’ll look at operating budgets, we’ll look at pretty much everything within our budget.

“We’ve been looking at all of these scenarios for the past three or four months. We’re not going to make a reaction to something that happens; we’ve got plans in place for all of those different scenarios that could potentially hit.”

As he has said throughout the coronavirus pandemic, George reiterated that eliminating sports and student-athlete support services remains at the bottom of his list of potential cuts.

“It’ll be the last choice that we have,” he said of cutting sports. “One of the things that I’ve maintained and one of our responsibilities is to provide for all of our student-athletes and to provide them the support mechanisms that we can provide. We know that that is going to cost us, but we feel like that’s why we’re here. We’re talking about a situation that’s right in front of us and we’re trying to do everything that we can to keep our sports, our support services intact to provide for our student-athletes as we move forward and we’ll continue to do that.

“Is there a chance (cutting sports) could happen? There’s always a chance, but those two areas are two areas that we will stay away from unless we don’t play any college football at all and then we’ll have to have those discussions.”

The Ivy League and Patriot League have both announced they are canceling their fall sports because of COVID-19, as did the National Junior College Athletic Association. Football Bowl Subdivision conferences haven’t reached that point yet, but last week the Pac-12 and Big Ten announced a cancellation of non-conference events.

“There are some schools in our conference that haven’t been able to bring as many of their student-athletes back as they would like to begin preparation,” George said. “It’s incumbent upon us to make sure that we have the right training done to make sure that they’re physically and mentally healthy for the football season.

“We felt like this was a necessary next step to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes throughout the fall semester. We also felt like this decision gave us the most flexibility for making decisions over the coming weeks and months.”

By playing only within the conference, schools can have better control over testing protocols, as well as scheduling flexibility.

“Health and safety is at the forefront of our decision-making and we get informed quite often from the doctors in our conference,” George said. “Our decisions are guided by their input and their support.”

The conference is currently working to solidify a conference schedule for the fall. In football, Pac-12 schools play nine conference games each year, but George said the number of games on this year’s schedule has not been determined and there will likely be changes to the existing schedules that have been in place for several months. He said the conference hopes to have the schedule finalized by the end of July.

Whether the conference-only schedule gets played remains to be seen, but George remains hopeful.

“I think that we’re ready (at CU) to have a fall football season and a fall sports season,” George said. “We’ve been working incredibly hard to put together the right protocols for our student-athletes when they come back on campus, to ensure their health and safety.

“We put a lot of time and effort into this because we knew there would come a day that we’re either going to play or we’re not going to play and we are ready to play. We want to be in a position that the protocols that we have in place ensures the health and safety of not only our student-athletes, but our community at large. We’ve been working incredibly hard for that.”