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Layoffs, furloughs likely coming to CU Buffs athletics; cutting sports is not

AD Rick George vows to keep all Buffs programs intact

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado athletic director Rick George said cutting sports is still not an option during the pandemic.
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Rick George admitted there will be significant financial repercussions, including possible athletic department layoffs, in the aftermath of the Pac-12 Conference’s decision to postpone all athletic competition until at least Jan. 1.

Indeed, some of the fallout began around the league on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the decision became official. But at Colorado, the Buffaloes’ athletic director made one point clear: The idea of eliminating any varsity programs still hasn’t shown up on George’s radar.

On Wednesday, George and five of the CU head coaches impacted by the Pac-12’s momentous decision took questions during a virtual press conference. Asked by BuffZone if the option of eliminating sports, a path George has avoided consistently since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, has become a more viable consequence, and George reiterated his previous stance.

Change is coming. But dropping sports at CU won’t be one of them.

“I’ve been pretty consistent on this — number one, we are not cutting sports,” George said. “I told our student-athletes that (Tuesday). And number two, we’re not cutting anything that impacts the experience for our student-athletes. All the support areas that I’ve mentioned — health, nutrition, academics, leadership — all those areas, we will not touch those areas. We have an obligation to provide a great experience for our student-athletes. We’re not going to look at any of those areas, but we do have challenges.

“Will there be furloughs and layoffs? Probably. My leadership team and I have been working on that for a while now, but we’ve really ramped it up over the last few days. We’ll make some decisions hopefully in the next seven to 10 days on what that will look like. Those are going to be tough. Those are gut-wrenching because it does involve people. But we won’t eliminate any sports.”

In late June, CU announced that four positions had been cut in athletics. That figure does not include three administrators who have departed in recent months in Ceal Barry, Matt Biggers, and Ben Broussard. None of those administrative positions have been filled by outside hires.

Chances are there will be unease in all 12 of the Pac-12’s athletic departments, as well as the league office, in the coming weeks. All 12 of the conference’s football programs generate revenue in excess of $50 million, and those budgets already suffered a significant jolt with the cancellation of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in March.

On Wednesday, popular Pac-12 Networks host Michael Yam announced on Twitter that he no longer is employed by the network. With no live athletic events available until at least Jan. 1, there likely will be more fallout at the league’s already struggling network branch.

Last week, the Pac-12 hotline at the San Jose Mercury News reported the Pac-12 was set to make loans available to the league’s athletic departments for up to $83 million at an interest rate of 3.75 over 10 years. George didn’t rule out dipping into that pool if needed, but he made it clear CU’s athletic department remains in an exploring-all-options mode.

“We’re working with campus leadership on that,” George said, “Do we need support, and if we do, what’s the right mechanism for us? We’ll certainly look at that once we finalize what direction we’re going and where we can get this to. But we budgeted for a season knowing that we wouldn’t put a lot of fans in the stadium. We already made those budget cuts. When we play football in the spring, the revenue will be the same unless we trim the number of games we play.”