CORONAVIRUS

Gary Barta: Lots of 'unknowns' in Iowa athletics budget

Athletics director not sure what the future will hold

Iowa athletics director Gary Barta, walking on the football field before the game against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadiu
Iowa athletics director Gary Barta, walking on the football field before the game against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadium last year, said there are a lot of “unknowns” in college athletics right now. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Iowa’s athletics budget took a bit of a hit last year, coming in $839,111 under the budgeted $117.1 million.

This year will be a major blow after the NCAA cut its distribution to Division I schools by at least $225 million after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments, among other revenue streams.

Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said Thursday his department receive about $1.5 million from the NCAA, about 2/3 less than expected.

Still, he said Iowa will “come in as healthy as we can” when the fiscal year ends June 30.

“We believe we can cover everything without any cuts in pay and not letting anybody go,” Barta said during a Zoom news conference. “We have not yet asked anybody to take a pay cut.”

There is a hiring and spending freeze, but Barta said, by using reserves, all obligations will be met.

“We’ll be able to keep everybody employed through June 30,” he said.

After that, he wouldn’t speculate. He said all of the 250 athletics department employees have talked about “shared sacrifices.”

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“There’s a whole lot of uncertainty right now,” he said. “I’m not going to give you hard numbers ... it would just be a guesstimate in so many ways.”

He and his staff are working on a plan for next year, but he knows — like every other college AD in the country — there will be further fiscal pain to deal with.

“We’ll be redoing the operating budget. We’ll be redoing everything we do,” Barta said. “I expect there will be reductions ... We’re modeling. We’re preparing.”

Barta touched on many topics during the nearly hourlong video conference, but had few hard answers.

“The uncertainty is so great ... when is it going to end and when can we get back into our lives and what are our lives going to look like?” he said.

Football, obviously, will be a big part of the equation. Will there be a 2020 season? Will it start on time with a full schedule? Will there be a shortened season? All of that, and more, are part of the unknowns Barta mentioned several times.

“The revenue derived from football drives college athletics,” he said.

“We are, right now, expecting to have a football season,” he said, adding he’s “really uncomfortable making any predictions ... because of the unknowns.”

He said the safety of the student-athletes comes first, along with the coaches and the staff. And, of course, the fans.

“It’s going to be driven by bringing people back safely,” he said. “... if we can’t insure that, that will hold up having a football season.

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“I want (a season) badly and I know our fans want that badly ... (but) safety and well-being will be our guide.”

Another potential budget issue next year will be the return of senior spring athletes whose 2020 seasons were derailed by the pandemic. The NCAA announced last week those wishing to return will be granted an extra year.

It’s up to each school, however, to figure out how that will work within their budget. Wisconsin announced Thursday it will not allow those athletes to return.

“What we tried to do was encourage our seniors to go ahead and, if you’re going to graduate, graduate and move on with your life,” Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said Wednesday on his monthly radio show, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. “We appreciate everything that you’ve done. But move forward. The future is in question, and we can’t promise you anything.”

Barta wasn’t that harsh, but said the NCAA created a “very complicated situation.”

He said several spring athletes have indicated they want to return next year, but nothing will be promised. Barta estimated it would cost about $500,000 in scholarship money to cover the cost.

Spring coaches will likely have to figure out how to cover those extra costs within their program budgets.

“It has some potential challenges,” Barta said.

Although he didn’t have a lot of solid answers, Barta knows one thing about the effect coronavirus will have on college athletics.

“This will have an impact for a long time,” he said.

Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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