Iowa Hawkeyes

Hawkeye sports shave millions from budget; Ferentz and Barta take pay cuts

'None of this is easy for our coaches and staff'

Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta talks with Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz before the Rutgers game at Kinnick Stadium
Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta talks with Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz before the Rutgers game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Big-name Iowa Hawkeyes coaches Kirk Ferentz, Fran McCaffery, Tom Brands and Lisa Bluder will all take 15 percent pay cuts for a year as the University of Iowa Athletics Department absorbs a $15 million hit in its new fiscal year budget.

According to an announcement Tuesday, Athletic Director Gary Barta also is cutting his total compensation package by over 30 percent. Deputy Athletics Director Barbara Burke has agreed to a 25-percent salary reduction.

“None of this is easy for our coaches and staff,” Barta said in a statement. “I appreciate their continued understanding in these uncertain times. The pandemic has dealt us a financial situation that requires difficult decisions. It is our responsibility to maintain a fiscally responsible operation while providing the highest level of service to our student-athletes.”

Football coach Ferentz, routinely the highest-paid state of Iowa employee, was compensated $5.5 million in fiscal 2019, according to the state salary database. Men’s basketball coach McCaffrey was paid $2.18 million; women’s basketball coach Bluder was paid almost $1.1 million; wrestling coach Brands was paid $390,000; and director Barta was paid nearly $987,000.

The UI Athletics’ 2021 budget, which starts Wednesday, had been expected to increase from $124.8 million to $127.5 million. But administrators lopped it to $112.5 million.

Most of the $15 million in cuts will come from curtailed operating expenses, with pay adjustments accounting for the remaining $2 million.

In addition to the high-profile coaches, salary and compensation reductions are being doled out across the department — with non-contractual staff earning more than $200,000 absorbing a 10 percent base pay cut; those making $150,000 to $199,999 taking a 7.5 percent cut; employees over $100,000 to $149,999 seeing a 5-percent cut; those at $50,143 to $99,999 taking 3-percent less; and those making under that $50,143 mark absorbing a 2-percent cut, according to the department.

Merit employees on contract will participate in the budget cuts by taking unpaid leave.

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In a statement, Barta said, “I care deeply about our staff and recognize a reduction in salary will have a significant impact on many families throughout the department. I want to thank our entire staff for their support and understanding as we have worked through this process.”

The cuts come after UI Athletics took massive hits from spring cancellations and curtailed contributions from the Big Ten Conference. And its current projections — which assume “complete football and basketball seasons with fans in attendance” — could get worse if the coronavirus pandemic persists.

“These are challenging times with significant uncertainty,” Barta said. “We are grateful for the loyal and generous support of our fans and appreciate knowing they are with us as we face this adversity.”

Iowa State Athletics imposed across-the-board cuts months ago in light of the unfolding COVID-19 crisis that stripped its NCAA basketball revenue and curtailed conference contributions — which Iowa’s athletic powerhouses rely heavily on in their annual budgeting.

For its 2020 budget year, the UI reported $53.8 million in NCAA and conference contributions, followed — in terms of revenue generators — by football-related income at $22.3 million and then donations at $17.2 million, according to state documents.

ISU in fiscal 2020 reported NCAA and conference contributions at nearly $40 million, followed by $17 million in donations and $12.5 million in football revenue.

The Cyclones cuts include across-the-board pay reductions of 10 percent, with coaches forfeiting bonuses for the upcoming budget year.

“By doing it at 10 percent across the board, everybody shares the relative pain,” ISU Athletics Director Jamie Pollard said at the time.

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The University of Northern Iowa — also in April — imposed voluntary pay cuts amid losses and ongoing unknowns.

To avoid mass gatherings, ISU recently announced it’s limiting fan capacity in Jack Trice Stadium to 50 percent for the fall football season. Last week, Pollard said it had sold out all available tickets for the season.

UI Athletics also last week announced a pause on 2020 football season ticket sales until administrators have a clearer picture of Kinnick Stadium capacity and social distancing mandates.

‘We will get back to something’

The challenge of containing COVID-19 spread in athletics already has materialized at UI, which — as part of its return-to-campus protocol that involves testing players, coaches and staff daily — has reported 17 positive cases.

UI President Bruce Harreld last week discussed some of those challenges at a discussion hosted by the Corridor Business Journal.

“Once you have one positive CV-19 in the football program, which we’ve had, who do you think football players are hanging out with right now? Football players,” Harreld said. “And so one positive test turns into eight, to 10, or sometimes even more in isolation. The math of this is getting very interesting. And it’s getting difficult.”

Harreld reported “a lot of discussions going on” across the major U.S. programs about fans, players and precautions.

“It’s very clear we can’t have them as packed in as they usually are — that’s not safe,” he said. “I hear people talking about 50-percent capacity, 25-percent capacity. I heard one institution the other day say they would only allow students in to watch a game.”

Harreld noted the wrinkle of requiring trust of other institutions and conferences.

“How do we know that the team that we play actually has done all the testing?” he said, suggesting the Hawkeyes might win one game but end up with everyone on the sidelines the next, “because they just got the virus.”

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“So there’s just a lot of fluidity in this,” he said. “We’re all looking for simple answers to complex problems, and that isn’t going to happen.”

Answering the question of what sports will look like this fall and winter, Harreld said, he predicts “we will get back to something.

“But it’s going to look very different than it looked like last year,” he said. “It could well be a shortened season. It could be a lot more restrictions on testing and who’s allowed to play …

“So stay tuned.”

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

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