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IOWA CITY — The athletic departments across Iowa’s public universities have together spent over $7.3 million on COVID-19 testing and other pandemic precautions and measures — expenses covered by their main campuses, athletics revenue or federal aid.
The University of Iowa Department of Athletics spent the majority of that total during 2020 and 2021, incurring more than $6 million in expenses to comply with Big Ten Conference mandates that its members regularly test all their athletes, coaches and staff.
Iowa State University’s Athletics Department has spent more than $1 million to date accommodating Big 12 Conference COVID mandates — the vast majority occurring in 2020 and 2021, according to data requested by The Gazette through an open records request.
And the University of Northern Iowa’s Department of Athletics incurred nearly $300,000 in pandemic expenses that were “paid by the university and easily identifiable to athletics,” according to UNI Athletics officials.
“Some COVID expenses such as cleaning supplies and wages for extra cleaning were paid with central funds and difficult to split by department,” UNI officials said.
All three campuses employed varying testing and quarantine protocols throughout the pandemic, depending on guidance from their conferences and campus leaders. All three tapered their testing to various degrees as the pandemic persisted — with the NCAA in January 2022 updating its guidance to allow vaccinated coaches and players or those recently infected to skip routine testing “unless symptomatic or based on risk assessment of a documented close contact with COVID-19.”
In May 2020, UI Athletics began weekly COVID-19 testing for all coaches, athletes, team personnel, event staff and others who had regular contact with a team or its members — with the Big Ten ramping up daily rapid antigen surveillance in September 2020.
ISU tested its coaches, players and other personnel three times a week and within a day of any contest during the height of COVID-19 — amounting to nearly 25,000 tests internally. UNI, similarly, applied the more frequent three-times-a-week protocol in 2020 and 2021, wrapping up the mandate in spring 2022 after amassing about 7,000 tests, officials said.
“There is no required testing currently,” UNI officials said.
None of the campuses received any COVID-19-related reimbursement from their conferences for the mandated tests and protocols.
UNI — the only of Iowa’s public universities to annually provide funding to its athletics operation — covered the entirety of its department’s $296,406 in COVID-19-related expenses, officials reported. The programs at the UI and ISU are self-supporting.
ISU Athletics, which receives only a “very small student fee” and no other institutional or state support, covered its $1 million in pandemic expenses through the athletics medical budget — pulling from general ticket, conference and media revenues.
And UI Athletics covered its more than $6 million in costs during 2020 and 2021 — using some of a $50 million loan it took from the main campus and using some of the campus’ federal relief aid.
The UI designated $2 million of its federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund allocations to the athletics protocols, according to spokesman Chris Brewer. Through Aug. 31, the UI had received and spent $85.8 million of the federal aid — $47.2 million of which went toward institutional needs and $38.6 million of which went into student grants, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Although all three athletic departments struggled with lost revenue during the worst of COVID-19 — when fans were limited or eliminated and testing protocols surged — they’ve rebounded since.
The UI and ISU reported their highest revenue in history in the budget year that just ended, and the UI expecting another record-breaking year in the current fiscal 2023 cycle.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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