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IOWA CITY — None of the University of Iowa’s contracted football coaches — including head coach Kirk Ferentz — participated in the voluntary salary reductions that UI Athletics announced last summer in light of massive pandemic losses that officials cited weeks later in justifying their decision to cut four Hawkeye sports.
The football coaches, like all other contracted UI Athletics Department staff, were asked “to consider either participating in the voluntary, temporary salary reduction option or making a donation back to the department sometime during the FY2020-2021 fiscal year,” Senior Associate Athletics Director Matt Henderson told The Gazette.
Most contracted UI Athletics staffers took the pay cut — including Fran McCaffery, head coach of the men’s basketball team; Lisa Bluder, head coach of the women’s basketball squad; Tom and Terry Brands, head and associate head wrestling coaches; and head coaches of the Hawkeye volleyball, rowing, field hockey, women’s gymnastics, women’s tennis, softball, soccer, baseball, golf and track and field programs, according to public records requested and reviewed by The Gazette.
Even those coaches atop the Olympic sports the UI plans to drop after this year — including men’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis and men’s gymnastics — volunteered a pay cut. Administrators, however, waived those offers after announcing plans to eliminate the programs — and thus the jobs — to help mitigate a projected $75 million deficit in the 2021 budget year.
With over a month to go before the department’s fiscal 2021 budget ends June 30, details of how it is shaking out haven’t been made public. But officials have said losses won’t be as steep as originally thought, given that football, basketball, and wrestling seasons later materialized.
Still, given a projected operating deficit in the tens of millions, the typically self-supported UI Athletics Department pursued about $15 million in budget cuts — slashing salaries, ending some sports without warning coaches or athletes, and tapping the larger campus for a $50 million loan.
“In this instance, there is no alternative to an internal loan,” UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett said about the athletics contribution from the UI main campus — which, as a publicly-funded institution, is facing a budget crunch of its own with declining enrollment and state appropriation cuts. “State law prohibits all state agencies, including the UI, from externally financing an operating deficit.”
No Ferentz cut
Instead of taking pay cuts to help shrink the deficit — driven by the $23.9 million in budgeted football expenses, despite meager football revenue — 10 football coaches agreed “as part of the budget reductions” to forgo bonuses they earned for qualifying for a bowl game. The Hawkeyes never played that bowl game after its opponent, the University of Missouri, reported too many COVID-19 cases.
By passing up those bonuses, the football coaches saved the department $431,333. Athletics employees who took temporary pay cuts saved the department a collective $1.6 million — including non-contracted staff and merit employees, who had no choice.
When Athletic Director Gary Barta announced the budget cutting measures last summer, he named Bluder, McCaffery, Brands and Ferentz as having “voluntarily agreed to a one-year, 15-percent base salary reduction or contribution back to the athletics department.”
Ferentz didn’t take a pay cut, records show. On top of the millions more he amassed in bonus pay and additional compensation, his base salary increased $100,000 — as contracted — from $2.6 million in the 2020 budget year to $2.7 million.
He also isn’t forgoing his bowl game bonus — like the other coaches — and instead will get his $100,000 payout by June 30, according to Senior Associate Athletics Director Henderson.
When asked if Ferentz donated to the UI Center for Advancement to help with the deficit, Henderson said:
“Mary and Kirk Ferentz contributed to the department’s savings goal through their previous philanthropic commitment of $400,000 to support football letterwinner initiatives. The commitment was established in June, 2019, and pledge payments of $100,000 have been received in December 2019 and 2020.”
“In addition,” he said, “Mary and Kirk have provided nearly $1 million in private support to the Athletics Department, including a $500,000 contribution to the Kinnick Edge campaign,” referring to a fundraising drive that began in early 2017.
When asked if any other football staffers who passed on the pay cuts made a donation instead, Henderson named only assistant coach Ken O’Keefe, who “contributed to the department’s savings goal through a philanthropic contribution to support the Hawkeye Fund in the amount of $20,000 in December 2020.”
Henderson also noted all employees still have the chance to participate in the budget reductions “between now and the end of the fiscal year” less than seven weeks from now.
In a statement, Barta said department staff have supported Hawkeye athletics “through unprecedented financially difficult times” in a “myriad of ways related to our departmental goal of reducing expenses across the board and particularly in the area of compensation.”
“I’m grateful for our staff’s commitment to participate,” he said. “I am truly thankful for our staff and student-athletes, who in the midst of a pandemic, continue to achieve historic individual and team success while maintaining high academic standards.”
Football salaries swell
Although some football coaches gave up their contractually-owed bowl game bonuses to help cut costs, all who did still saw their salaries swell from the 2020 to 2021 budget years — some significantly so.
- Head strength coach Raimond Braithwaite, who took on new responsibilities after strength coach Chris Doyle’s departure, watched his $205,000 salary more than double to $450,000.
- Assistant coach and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz saw his $775,000 salary jump $85,000 to $860,000.
- Assistant strength coach Cody Myers’ $56,295 salary nearly tripled to $150,000.
- Defensive coordinator Phillip Parker took his $90,000 raise, bringing his pay to $890,000;
- And O’Keefe saw his $625,000 salary grow to $685,000.
Few other contracted athletics employees saw pay raises from fiscal 2020 to 2021, meaning those football-related bumps served as primary drivers of the department’s half-million-dollar increase in contracted salary expenditures this year over last.
Even in fiscal 2020 — which ended last June, about four months after the pandemic began — Hawkeye football expenses came in $714,285 over budget at $30.4 million and $8.9 million over the football program’s $21.6 million income, which was under expectations.
UI Athletics last summer also paid former strength coach Doyle $1.1 million as part of a separation agreement.
Other coach cuts
In identifying department higher-ups who agreed last summer to contribute to the budget-cutting cause, Barta — who last June was making a base wage of $600,000 — committed to reducing his total compensation by over 30 percent.
A contract amendment shows Barta sliced 15 percent from his raised $650,000 base wage for fiscal 2021, knocking it down to $552,500. He also shed half his $300,000 deferred compensation for the 2020 budget year, plus another $150,000 in deferred comp this year — amounting to another $300,000 reduction.
Barta forfeited the $145,000 in supplemental pay he earned for the 2020 budget year, which at most could have totaled $150,000 for things like high graduation rates, financial stewardship, revenue growth and meeting goals he and UI President Bruce Harreld set together.
His contract amendment notes that come July 1, his annual base pay and deferred compensation arrangement will bounce back to what it would have been: $650,000 plus $400,000 annually through June 30, 2024, amounting to $1.05 million a year — plus supplemental pay, which he did not forgo in the current budget year.
Officials have not said how much Barta has earned in supplemental compensation this year.
Like Barta, all the coaches who took temporary pay cuts will see their contracted salary amounts return July 1, according to amended agreements.
- Deputy Director of Athletics Barbara Burke’s 25-percent reduced pay of $217,500 will return to $290,000 on July 1.
- Bluder’s 15-percent reduced base pay of $599,941 will rebound to $776,395.
- McCaffeery’s base salary of $1.45 million — after a 15 percent cut — is contracted to increase to $1.75 million in the upcoming budget year, which with other guaranteed speaking, media and apparel pay will total $2.9 million on the year. His total annual guaranteed compensation is slated to increase through the 2028 budget year to $3.7 million.
- Wrestling head coach Tom Brands, who signed a new contract in February 2020 as the pandemic was about to begin, took his 15 percent cut from his July 1, 2020 salary — which increased from $190,000 to $350,000. In addition to Brands’ $52,500 pay cut, he took another $30,000 budget reduction. His associates, Terry Brands and Ryan Morningstar trimmed their salaries according to the sliding scale Barta announced last summer — knocking $20,500 off Terry Brands’ pay.
Save Hawkeye Sports
Although UI Athletics waived any forfeited compensation from coaches whose sports and jobs are on the chopping block, administrators have insisted cutting the sports was and continues to be unavoidable — given the department’s dire fiscal challenges.
“The financial challenge remains significant and the decision to discontinue the three men's sports identified will remain in place,” Barta said in February, upon announcing his department would reinstate women’s swimming and diving — among the four programs it had planned to cut — in the face of a Title IX lawsuit and a court ruling in favor of the female athletes who filed it.
Parents, alumni and supporters have come together to form a Save Hawkeye Sports group hoping to collaborate with UI administrators on alternatives to eliminating the programs.
That group has raised more than $3 million and established another $3 million in gift commitments. Mark Kaufman — a UI graduate, former athletic trainer, donor and founder and chief executive of Athletico — said the university has turned the money down.
Football coach Kirk Ferentz
FY20: $2.6 million
FY21: $2.7 million
FY22:* $2.8 million
Men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery
FY20: $1.65 million
FY21: $1.445 million
Women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder
Wrestling coach Tom Brands
Athletic Director Gary Barta
*Scheduled amounts, according to coach contracts
Source: UI Athletics, public records
“They rejected the $3 million we have in hand and the $3 million we've committed to raising,” Kaufman said, adding his group has made inroads toward a philanthropic network aimed at sustaining the sports long-term. “And they just would not go anywhere with that. They wouldn't pursue it with us. They turned us down.”
The group has been at a standstill since Barta surprised its members — who had been talking weekly with campus officials about potential paths forward — with his February announcement he saw no chance at reinstatement.
“The way that we found out that they were not accepting this was Barta making a public announcement that women's swimming will be reinstated, which they had no choice, and the other sports were gone,” said former UI swimmer and Save Hawkeye Sports member Vicki Nauman.
A review of those cut sports’ 2021 operating budgets show eliminating them will save about $1.5 million annually — a total that excludes student scholarship costs, given the campus has vowed to honor those anyway.
Had UI Athletics shaved 10 percent off the combined $8.1 million in 2021 salaries of those Hawkeye football coaches who did not volunteer to reduce their pay, it would have saved $808,600.
“These programs are so small in the scheme of things, that if they wanted to keep those programs there, they could have forgone raising people's salaries from $200 to $400 grand a year a few times over and they'd have the funding,” Nauman said.
Both Nauman and Kaufman said they believe UI Athletics is using the pandemic as an excuse to justify disposing of lower-profile sports in favor of big moneymakers, like football. Had the department buckled down a few years, Kaufman said, revenue from media deals, the Big Ten Conference and ticket sales would have returned and saved UI from killing sports.
“You're not going to have to alienate all these alumni, athletes, parents, fans, donors,” he said. “I can't pretend to understand the decisions by the individual coaches. But my focus is directly at leadership at the athletic department and the culture that is created there,” he said. “I think that should be looked at intensely.”
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