CORONAVIRUS

UNI AD David Harris weighing option as athletics budget tightens

What works at Iowa State may not at his school

David Harris, athletics director at the University of Northern Iowa, still is working through how his program will addre
David Harris, athletics director at the University of Northern Iowa, still is working through how his program will address budget shortfalls caused by the coronavirus. (The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — While weeks of no sports and social distancing have stacked up, Northern Iowa athletics director David Harris, like many other ADs across the country, still is wrestling with a number of unknowns when it comes to the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Harris’ former boss, Iowa State athletics director Jamie Pollard, unveiled a number of cuts to the Cyclones athletics department last Thursday that will save $5 million Pollard said had already been lost as a result of COVID-19.

Emulating what Pollard did at Iowa State, however, isn’t a simple copy-and-paste operation at UNI, Harris said.

ISU’s annual athletics budget is in excess of $80 million while UNI’s is near $14 million.

“It’s certainly important to keep that (budget difference) in context, but, for some time now we have been looking at ways that we can increase the financial health of our overall program,” Harris said in an interview on 1650 KCNZ. “In that process we’ve had conversations behind the scenes about ways to do that.”

Harris mentioned those cost-cutting conversations have involved coaches, but didn’t specify who may have been involved and didn’t mention the possibility of asking any coaches to take temporary pay reductions or forgo performance bonuses like Pollard did at Iowa State.

“I think one of the differences between us and what Iowa State is doing is that ultimately when we’re looking at cost-saving measures we are likely looking at things that we can do on a more permanent basis as opposed to a temporary basis,” Harris said.

While he didn’t rule out temporary cuts altogether, Harris reiterated permanent cuts are the focal point of the administration’s conversations at this point.

Is cutting sports on the table?

Multiple sources told The Gazette that UNI cannot cut any of its women’s sports because of Title IX regulations and added cutting a sport such as men’s golf wouldn’t save the department enough money.

Considerable cost savings could come from football coach Mark Farley and men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson, who are by far the highest paid employees in UNI’s athletics department.

Farley makes between $330,000 and $400,000, depending upon the level of performance bonuses football reaches each year. Jacobson’s base salary increased to $900,000 after signing a 10-year extension in 2015. That extension had another two years tacked onto it after 2017.

Volleyball coach Bobbi Petersen, women’s basketball coach Tanya Warren and wrestling coach Doug Schwab also have six-digit salaries, but are far from Farley and well behind Jacobson.

“As far as what we’re looking at from a permanent standpoint I don’t want to comment on that at this point just because some of that stuff involves things that it’s just better to keep in house until we know what’s going to happen and we’re ready to roll that out or make announcements that affect different people,” Harris said.

It’s understandable how Harris’ vagueness could frustrate fans looking for answers, but it should be equally understandable where Harris is coming from to only reveal cost-cutting measures, especially permanent ones, when he and the department are completely prepared to do so.

Harris also made a plea to fans concerned about UNI’s ability to continue to be competitive, as it has been historically against universities with bigger budgets and more resources, after this passes.

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“All the things that are a part of the brand of UNI athletics, we are fighting to make sure those things continue and that all of our fans have the ability to fight with us to make those things happen,” Harris said. “We know that the circumstances for (fans) could be changing as well. Many of them may be in the situation where they don’t have the kind of discretionary income they’ve had in the past. I want to encourage them that we still can build our future together. We need their help, we need their strength (and) we need their generosity as we always have.”

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

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