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IOWA CITY - The resurrection of Big Ten football - even in a limited capacity, with a truncated schedule and no fan revenue - could shave tens of millions off an anticipated $75 million University of Iowa athletics deficit during this pandemic-plagued year.
But downgrading the massive losses to between $40 million and $60 million will not save the four sports UI Athletics last month announced will disappear at the end of this academic year, UI Athletic Director Gary Barta told the Board of Regents on Wednesday.
'The great news didn't fix the problem,” Barta said of the Sept. 16 conference decision to kick off a shortened football season the weekend of Oct. 23-24.
'That day, I had staff members whose positions were being eliminated contact us and ask if they'd be able to stay on,” Barta told the regents. 'And we had to have that very, very challenging discussion to say, ‘I'm sorry, but this hole is still very deep. And it's going to be impacting us probably more than a decade as we pay back the deficit.
'And so, no, the positions are still gone. The pay cuts are still in place. And the furloughs are still having to be taken.”
Addressing a massive and mounting alumni and athlete-driven campaign to save the four dropped UI sports - swimming and diving, men's tennis, and men's gymnastics - Barta repeated and publicly answered a question that group brought him after learning of the football resumption.
'The supporters of those four sports … came back to us and said, ‘Now that you're playing football, will you be able to bring back these sports?'” he said. 'And immediately we had to share with them, ‘No, the decision is final. And it's final only because the deficit is still very, very significant.'”
Members of the nine-member Board of Regents, which on Wednesday approved the unprecedented demoralized budgets of its university athletic departments, pushed back a bit - noting calls from the public have been pouring on over the cuts.
A Save Hawkeye Sports group on Tuesday announced they raised nearly $1.7 million in one day - in hopes of answering an initial report that cutting the UI programs would save about $5 million.
'I have never had as many people talk to me about being a regent and why we allowed this to happen in the almost six years I've been on,” regent Patty Cownie told UI leadership. 'I know it was probably a really difficult decision for you. But, man, there's a lot of anger out there about it.”
UI President Bruce Harreld - who holds final decision-making power regarding eliminated sports, not the regents - took a more decisive tone toward the grassroots efforts to save the programs.
'Gary and I've met with a number of the people you're getting letters from,” Harreld said. 'I responded to one of them last night saying, ‘Look, we're not going to put the university at risk.'
He said fundraisers want the campus to reinstate the sports first, so they can continue campaigning for funds.
'I'm sorry, I've been there so many times on other facilities and other activities on campus - that if you do this we'll raise the money - and then we end up with 10 percent of what we need, and now we're on the hook to fund the rest of it,” Harreld said. 'We don't have that sort of money anymore.”
Harreld said, 'These sports are closed.”
If people want to help, he said, raise the money first.
'Which is a fairly large sum of money, tens of millions of dollars, then we'll talk about whether we want to reinstate,” he said. 'But it has to be in that order. Otherwise, we're just putting the entire regential system at risk.”
When asked by a regent whether the university could have done more to involve alumni and athletes in the decision-making process, Barta said the appropriate people were involved in making the tough calls - and that they didn't want to create a false sense of hope.
'There just aren't alternatives,” he said. 'And if I would have cut other sports, we'd be having the same discussion with a different group … This was the grouping that gave us the best path forward. And there's no good answer.”
When regent Cownie conceded, 'You're in a bad place with this, there's no doubt about it, I hope you get the money someplace,” Harreld said, 'Yeah, we do too. But that's not going to happen.”
'I'd love for a regent to make a motion to fund this,” Harreld said, pausing for a moment of silence. 'OK, let's move on.”
That exchange prompted Board President Mike Richards to later clarify the university presidents hold that decision-making power, not the regents.
'The presidents of the universities determine what sports are played at their university,” Richards said. 'We do not specifically budget for any particular sport.”
Where the UI Athletics deficit eventually lands, Barta said, will depend on how much the program gets in television revenue - which remains under negotiation - and how much more it has to spend on rigid medical protocols making the shortened season possible.
'Assuming we get to play these games, we're going to play them without fans,” Barta said, reporting football ticket revenue typically generates more than $20 million a year. 'And so we'll be without that. Associated with that ticket revenue, we received between $15 and $20 million in premium seating either for the suites, the club seats, or seat donations. And we'll be without that.”
Although mitigated by the bump in TV revenue, Barta said, the daily COVID-19 testing of players will come at a 'significant cost” - not to mention the cardiac protocols for those who contract the virus.
'It's going to be expensive for anybody who tests positive,” he said.
Iowa State University Athletics Director Jamie Pollard, who also presented to the board Wednesday, discussed his program's anticipated $35 million deficit this year - although his school's situation is different in the Big 12 Conference, which earlier decided to go ahead with football this fall and give campuses more decision-making freedom.
'We will most likely be making a decision about fans in the stands later this week,” he said. 'And that could help us be able to mitigate that $35 million hole in ticket sales, but also in those donations that people make that are tied to those seat holders.”
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