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Universities hold off on some athletic projects amid coronavirus concerns
Three university athletics projects scheduled to go before Iowa's Board of Regents for approval this week were pulled from the agenda, 'given the uncertainty about the impact of the coronavirus on collegiate athletics.”
Those projects include Iowa State University's $22 million expansion of Hilton Coliseum; a $2.1 million 'football team meeting room” in the University of Northern Iowa's UNI-Dome; and a $6.5 million replacement of air handling units that serve the University of Iowa's Big Ten and NCAA championship-level pool in its Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.
'Through mutual discussion between the board office and the universities, it was agreed that those projects would be presented to the board at a future date,” regents spokesman Josh Lehman told The Gazette, citing the coronavirus concerns.
Like much of society, the National Collegiate Athletic Association - plus its member institutions and athletes - have been hard hit by the coronavirus and measures taken to prevent its spread, including the NCAA decision in March to cancel its current and upcoming seasons and championships.
The NCAA a week ago announced its previously budgeted $600 million distribution to members in 2020 instead will be $225 million and must be used to support student athletes.
Instead of a first distribution in April, the revised total will go out in June - a consequence of the historic cancellation of its lucrative March Madness basketball tournament.
'The NCAA receives most of its revenue from the Division I men's basketball championship television and marketing rights, as well as championship ticket sales,” according to the NCAA.
Iowa's public universities rely heavily on conference distributions, with the UI estimating its athletic conference and NCAA revenue at $54.9 million in the 2019 budget year - about 45 percent of its $122.4 million total income, according to Board of Regents documents.
It had budgeted $53.8 million from its conference and NCAA in the 2020 budget year.
Iowa State's conference and NCAA revenue was estimated at $41.2 million in 2019, about 46 percent of its $90 million in revenue.
UNI's conference and NCAA support last year was estimated at $1.7 million, about 12 percent of its $14 million total.
The institutions have not said how much they expect to lose from coronavirus-related cancellations - including losses from ticket sales and media rights, among other things.
ISU REDUCES PAY
ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard on Wednesday announced initiatives his department is taking to prepare for 'financial challenges that we will be facing soon” - acknowledging that fans, donors and sponsors will be harmed by the coronavirus economic fallout.
The initiatives include a one-year pay reduction for ISU athletics coaches and some staff - reducing its payroll by more than $3 million - and a one-year suspension of coach bonuses and incentives, saving $1 million.
For ticket holders and donors, Iowa State is delaying an increase in Cyclone Club giving levels, saving donors about $2.5 million; extending the deadline for that club's donations and football season ticket renewals to May 29; freezing season and individual game ticket prices for all sports; and offering payment options that can be made monthly, quarterly or semiannually.
'These actions will help us address the $5 million shortfall that we face with the cancellation of the NCAA and Big 12 men's basketball tournaments,” Pollard said. 'Although we could have passed on implementing these difficult decisions today and simply hoped for things to improve, we felt it was wise to act now.”
When asked by The Gazette on Thursday whether UI Athletics is planning similar measures, Athletic Director Gary Barta acknowledged every athletics department nationwide is facing 'immediate, short-term and long term financial challenges.”
UI President Bruce Harreld recently assured his campus that all employees will remain 'in a paid status through the end of the spring 2020 semester,” Barta said.
It's too soon, he said, to predict UI Athletics revenue, including conference and NCAA income.
'Our department is having daily conversations as we work to close out this fiscal year and prepare for the next,” Barta said. 'My thoughts go out to the individuals and companies around the community, state and nation facing similar challenges.”
When asked whether other athletics-related capital projects are on hold across the regent universities - beyond those pulled from the board agenda this week - spokesman Lehman told The Gazette he can't speak to other projects.
'Once the board approves any project, they are managed by the universities,” he said.
The UI in late January announced a new 37,000-square-foot, $17 million to $20 million wrestling practice facility - to be funded through athletics gifts. That project went out for bids in March, and selection is in progress, according to the UI bid site.
UI officials didn't answer questions from The Gazette about whether that project is ongoing.
As for the UI project to replace its recreation center air handling units, UI President Harreld during Wednesday's regents meeting said his campus plans to bring back that project for approval at a later date.
'This is barely athletics, and we do have an issue,” he said.
The pool upgrades were supposed to be complete by late 2021, according to the pulled board documents, which note, the UI pool 'is slated to host several Big Ten and NCAA championship meets in the upcoming years.”
ISU, UNI PROJECTS
Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum project called for updating the 49-year-old facility's infrastructure and congested concourses by fall 2022. According to its pulled proposal, the expansion would create 6,700 more square feet of concourse floor space and erect new exterior glass curtain walls.
UNI's proposed football meeting room - which could double as premium seating for UNI games and events - was supposed to be done in time for the 2021 football season.
How this week's delays in board approval will affect those project timelines is not yet known.
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