Iowa Hawkeyes

University of Iowa Athletics projecting $75 million deficit, and that's with winter sports

Iowa State University considering eliminating sports

University of Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta discusses findings of the independent review of issues of racial dispari
University of Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta discusses findings of the independent review of issues of racial disparities in the program during a news conference in the Feller Club Room at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa Athletics Department is projecting a $96.9 million drop in revenue this budget year — and that’s if its winter sports do compete and generate some income.

Iowa State University is considering eliminating sports — following the Hawkeyes’ August announcement that it’s dropping men’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and men’s tennis after this year.

And University of Northern Iowa is shrinking its already smaller budget by another $1.7 million.

Those dramatic and dire athletics announcements — and more — were spelled out in a Board of Regents report made public Tuesday in anticipation of a meeting next week that will, among other things, involve discussion of the coronavirus’ negative impact on Iowa’s university athletic departments.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed us in unprecedented times,” according to the report.

With the massive UI Athletics revenue slide to $23.2 million in fiscal 2021 from $120.1 million last year — fueled primarily by the elimination of football revenue — the department is projecting a $74.8 million deficit, as it remains on the hook for nearly $98 million in expenses.

UI Athletics reports the deficit “will require outside assistance to bridge the financial shortfall.” And the report stressed the already-dire outlook “assumes having normal winter and spring competitions, with reduced attendance capacity.”

“Additionally, this budget assumes not having fall sports in the spring, as a worst-case scenario,” according to the UI regents report. “If the circumstances change, there would be the potential for additional income and expenses for those fall teams competing in the spring.

“Additionally, if the winter and spring sports do not compete, there would be additional reductions in revenue and expenses.”

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UI Athletics — in the throes of a Big Ten Conference debate about whether to resume some semblance of a fall football season — already transferred $3.6 million from reserve funds in the 2020 budget year, leaving a balance of more than $4 million in reserve, according to the report.

After years of becoming increasingly reliant on conference contributions and media-rights income, UI is projecting massive drops in those revenue buckets this year — with conference contributions expected to plummet from a budgeted $54 million last year to $10 million this year.

Iowa State

Iowa State University — in the Big 12 Conference that is playing football this fall, although fans aren’t allowed in Jack Trice Stadium — expects a large budget deficit too, albeit not as steep as UI at this time.

ISU — which unlike UI is not including any fall, winter, or spring sports ticket revenue in its budget — is projecting a $35 million deficit, with all anticipated income coming from donations, conference contributions, media-rights revenue, and other ancillary sources.

“The projected shortfall may be funded in part by accessing unrestricted resources held by the Department of Athletics and/or the university,” according to ISU’s regents report. “Any temporary use of unrestricted university resources will be repaid by the Department of Athletics.”

If the ISU football season is shortened or its basketball season is postponed, trimmed, or canceled, Iowa State’s athletics revenue would fall further or, in some cases, be lost entirely.

The department cataloged a list of measures its considering to address “the significant financial challenge.”

• Layoffs or more payroll cuts;

• Eliminating sports;

• And working with Iowa State to develop an operational plan for Stephens Auditorium, “as the revenues generated from the auditorium are not sufficient to cover operational costs.”

The report did not specify which sports might be under consideration for elimination but noted, “While eliminating a sports program will not have an immediate direct impact on the budget challenges, future savings may help repay any funding provided for this year’s deficit.”

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Iowa State spelled out the hits driving down its budget this year, including “significant decreases in media-related revenues and in attendance-related revenues across all venues and all sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Although the UI Athletics budget assumes winter sports are happening — but with lighter attendance — Iowa State’s budget assumes winter sports seasons will be delayed, “resulting in fewer home games and less television revenue generated by the Big 12 Conference.”

Its budget does not include any attendance-related revenue; it accounts for a 10 percent pay cut for all employees; it includes a 20 percent operating budget cut; and it adds in about $2 million for COVID-19 testing expenses.

Media-rights revenue and licensing income also down for the universities, in that “COVID-19 forced many retail stores to close for an extended period.”

Northern Iowa

UNI is the only public university of Iowa’s three to propose a balanced athletics budget this year — with both its income and expenses expected to drop to $12.8 million.

But that budget assumes four home football games will happen in the spring, with fall games already canceled. It also assumes UNI will host nine home men’s basketball conference games this winter, all with limited capacity.

UNI — which unlike UI and ISU Athletics receives support from its campus’ general education budget — is expecting fewer conference losses and actually increases in marketing income.

While ISU and UI are projecting steep fundraising and donation decreases, UNI is projecting a $1.2 million increase in that category.

Despite their shrinking budgets, all three athletic departments remain responsible for covering tuition on the scholarships they award. For UI, that amounts to about 300 scholarships worth about $13.9 million. Iowa State’s about 236 scholarships are worth $8.6 million.

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UNI reports about 190 scholarships worth $4.5 million — although its campus’ general education fund is budgeted to provide $1.3 million for athletics scholarships and $3.2 million for general athletics operations.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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