CORONAVIRUS

Iowa State athletics cuts pay as it braces for impact of coronavirus outbreak

Coaches and administrators see 10-percent pay cut

Iowa State Athletics Director Jamie Pollard. (The Gazette)
Iowa State Athletics Director Jamie Pollard. (The Gazette)

AMES — The Iowa State athletics department, like all collegiate athletics departments, is faced with a shortfall — money that was expected but never came.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament makes up 80 percent of all of the revenue for Division I, Division II and Division III athletics.

Since the tournament was canceled, that money isn’t coming and there’s no way to make it up.

Iowa State and athletics director Jamie Pollard were faced with a $5-million shortfall because they didn’t get the money they were expecting from the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.

“(Wednesday) we made a pretty bold and strong move about the future,” Pollard said in a video conference Thursday with members of the media. “History will ultimately judge our decision that we made (Wednesday), but I’d contest that in the near future, there will be other people doing what we did yesterday and that we’ll look back on this decision and learn that it wasn’t that big of a decision — although maybe it feels like a big one today.”

That decision was to cut staff pay by 10 percent across the board from coaches to administrators in the athletics department. The coaches also decided to forfeit their bonuses for the next year, which could add up to $1 million in the case of head football coach Matt Campbell or head men’s basketball coach Steve Prohm.

“By doing it at 10 percent across the board, everybody shares the relative pain,” Pollard said. “That number is going to be a lot bigger for a guy like coach Campbell. But for a coach that makes less, yes, the number is smaller, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less painful of a cut.

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“Our highest paid coaches have been the ones to say, ‘Tell me what you want me to do and I’m all in. I’ll do it. And if I have to do more, I’m willing to do more.’ That’s pretty cool because I know they already do a lot in the community and will probably now do even more in the community.”

The athletics department’s budget for payroll is $27 million and 25 percent of the department makes up 75 percent of the payroll. Small changes weren’t going to fix anything.

Pollard, his staff and the coaches were faced with a decision. Cut sports or cut pay.

“Approaching this by saying, ‘Well we just won’t fill open positions or we’ll lay off the ‘unessential’ people.’ That doesn’t work for us,” Pollard said. “The only way that could work is by dropping four or five sports or eliminate every administrative person in the department including all the units that support the coaches. If we did that, we’d be gutting the core of our department and we wouldn’t be ready to be successful when we can reengage as a society.

“That doesn’t even mention the pain and the heartache that would cause for so many people.”

Pollard also added that cutting jobs or sports wouldn’t fix the problem because then people would have to file for unemployment and the taxpayers and the state would then have to deal with that burden.

“We needed a different solution and that’s how we came up with the solution that was announced (Wednesday) night,” Pollard said.

Swimming coach Duane Sorenson remembered a time when it was handled differently at Iowa State.

Soreneson, who’s been at Iowa State for 23 years, recalled a time when the athletics department decided to cut sports.

“Coach Sorensen shared something in front of all those coaches that I thought was really telling,” Pollard said. “He was here in 2001 when Iowa State faced serious financial challenges and the solution at that time was to drop sports. He reflected on the damage that did to Iowa State and the distrust it caused between student-athletes and the administration, the coaches and administration, between the alums and the university.

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“That black cloud hung over Iowa State for years and it had a far greater impact than the financial ramifications — it destroyed the culture of an athletics department.”

Some universities might have to drop sports.

Others will follow in Iowa State’s footsteps.

“I know from talking with my peers that they want to do what we just did,” Pollard said. “We weren’t the first to do this because we wanted to be first, we were first because we have a system that allowed us to be first. I know there will be others that’ll follow suit because there are others that think like we do. I also know there are others that won’t think about it like this because they have huge reserves and can deal with things in a different way.

“I will say that there are a lot of ADs that are worried about what the financial future holds — both known and unknown. Some of their hands are tied. By and large, we have it really good in the state of Iowa because we have a system in this state that’s in the best interest of this state.”

Some might try to do nothing and use money that was in the reserve but Pollard doesn’t believe that’s feasible long-term unless that university has a huge reserve, like a Texas or Ohio State.

“I’m a CPA by trade and I know you never mask your problems,” Pollard said. “Some people will spend their entire reserve to make up the $5 million shortfall. That’s one way to do it, but if you do, then every decision from that point forward is no, no, no, no, no and we’re going to die of 1,000 cuts because you can’t operate without some kind of safety net.

“Our reserve is still there and we’ll use it the best we can but we will not use it to mask problems and that $5 million is a problem that shouldn’t be masked.”

Because Iowa State didn’t mask it, the soccer team is still able to book its airline tickets next fall, the women’s basketball team can schedule a tournament in Florida and the swimming team is planning a December training trip.

Pollard believes he’s putting his coaches in a position to be successful when normalcy does return because their sports are still able to operate even if the coaches are taking a cut in pay.

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“We’ve freed them up from that encumbrance of, ‘You can’t do anything,’” Pollard said. “That’s the advantage we have by getting out in front of this and dealing with what was a known big number. Now we can turn our attention to the ancillary questions that pop up as we continue to run the athletics department.”

Right now, all Big 12 sports are called off until May 30, when it will be reevaluated. That includes recruiting visits, workouts and other team activities.

Clearly no athletics department is through the woods yet, so while some of Iowa State’s coaches wanted to do more initially, Pollard wanted to make sure he was still putting Iowa State in a position of success down the road if things got worse.

“Some of our coaches have said, ‘I want to do more. Let me do more,’” Pollard said. “We want to keep some powder dry because we don’t know what else is waiting around the corner, but that’s the kind of people we have. We’re putting our coaches in a position to be more successful quicker when we return. It was uplifting because we have a unique group of coaches and we’re blessed that they’re here because they all want to win as much as anybody but they also understand what’s really important in this world.

“Having an extra three spring football practices is not what matters right now. Coach Campbell, specifically, has been a rock star through this process. I’m blessed to have a coach like him and 11 others just like him.”

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