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CU Buffs continue trimming athletics budget

Colorado had more layoffs, furloughs this week as AD Rick George navigates challenging year

BEST 1 BOULDER, CO - FEBRUARY 12, 2020: University of Colorado Athletic Director, Rick George, addresses the media after Head Football Coach, Mel Tucker, announces he is leaving. 
(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
BEST 1 BOULDER, CO – FEBRUARY 12, 2020: University of Colorado Athletic Director, Rick George, addresses the media after Head Football Coach, Mel Tucker, announces he is leaving. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Throughout his seven years as the athletic director at Colorado, Rick George has seen a lot of ups and a few downs within the program.

This year has provided unprecedented challenges for George and college athletics in general.

“This is the first time I haven’t enjoyed my job,” George told BuffZone on Friday.

CU continues trying to navigate through the coronavirus pandemic, and that has led to another round of layoffs and furloughs this week.

Since July, CU has gone through about 30 layoffs and furloughs. Most of those are furloughs, but at least a handful of athletic department staffers have been laid off. CU has also had “five or six” open positions that will not be filled.

“We continue to trim our budget,” George said.

That trimming has, unfortunately, led to George making “extremely difficult” staff decisions.

“I hate it,” he said. “It’s the worst part of my job, by far, but we’ve got to look at the whole.

“It’s difficult because it impacts families and impacts children. … Not playing sports, and particularly football, has a huge financial impact on the department.”

Concerns about the spread of COVID-19 led to the Pac-12 – as well as the Big Ten, Mountain West and MAC – deciding last month to postpone its fall sports season until at least January. However, the conference announced Thursday a partnership with Quidel Corporation that will lead to daily, rapid-results testing. That could allow football and other fall sports to return before January.

At this point, however, football isn’t being played. Even if football does return this year, it’ll likely be with a limited number of fans.

George has previously stated that the financial impact with be “significant” at CU, but the unknowns about the football season have made it difficult for the Buffs to nail down a budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

In the past few years, CU’s budget has been around $90 million per year. George said Friday that for 2020-21, “I think we’re probably looking in the $60-70 million range, but I don’t know that for sure. Our budget is going to be significantly lower. I think we all know that.”

George said the budget could change for the better if football returns sooner than January, but would take another major hit if football can’t be played at all in 2020-21. In recent years, football has provided nearly 50 percent of CU’s total athletic department revenue. Last year, CU generated more than $20 million in football ticket sales alone.

Eliminating sports continues to be a last resort for George, who added, “I don’t see that happening at this point. … Fortunately at this point we’ve been able to stay away from that.”

An early return of fall sports – and football in particular – would be a significant boost. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott called the development of Quidel’s rapid-results testing a “game changer,” and George said he is hopeful that’s the case.

“I think at the time, the decision (to postpone) was the right decision, but with new things coming into the picture that are positive, hopefully that will allow us to be able to return to play sooner than we have anticipated,” he said.

While the Pac-12 waits, several conferences are moving forward. There were two Football Bowl Subdivision games on Thursday and another seven scheduled this weekend. Central Arkansas, from the Football Championship Subdivision, has already played two games.

George said Pac-12 athletic directors have not talked about using the games being played as potential guidelines for the Pac-12’s return, but, “It would be good to talk about it.

“Central Arkansas has played two games and I don’t know what their testing protocols are like and what kind of issues they’ve had, but  … maybe there’s a lot to learn from those schools that are currently playing. I want them to do well. Those teams that are out there competing and playing, I think it’s good for us if they have success and they do this without having big setbacks.”

As CU waits and deals with the challenges of this year, the Buffs’ coaches and athletes keep preparing for the day they can return.

“Whenever the green light hits, we’re going to be ready to go at Colorado and we’ve put great systems in place to allow us to do that,” George said.


George said there has been no resolution on the game guarantees that were attached to the Buffs’ three non-conference football games that were canceled. CU was scheduled to get $1 million for going to Colorado State and $500,000 for going to Texas A&M, and the Buffs were set to pay Fresno State $600,000 for coming to Boulder. George has not discussed those fees with athletic directors at those schools. … Former CU linebacker Jash Allen, who entered the transfer portal this summer, will play at Montana State, according to a report.