As Eastern Washington faces major campuswide budget cuts due to a confluence of the coronavirus and declining enrollment that began years before the pandemic, its athletic department has been faced with several belt-tightening decisions.
Eastern athletics were already facing a $5.9 million deficit, and, to prevent further debt, were set to take a 3% cut for the 2020-2021 academic year before the coronavirus shut down college athletics in March.
The department has since been asked to take an additional 20% cut – an estimated $2.1 million – and could face more, forcing the administration to trim the fat from what’s widely considered bone compared with many other Big Sky Conference members’ athletic budgets.
So how does EWU make up for the massive loss?
Third-year EWU athletic director Lynn Hickey said Thursday that each of EWU’s athletic programs and administrative units will lose 30% of their operating budgets, administrators and coaches have been asked to take reductions in salary and roughly 12 vacant positions – primarily administrative jobs – in the athletic department won’t be filled.
Coaches and administrators making $100,000 or more face a 10% pay cut. Anyone making between $50,000 to $100,000 will take a 5% cut and those making less than $50,000 will take a 3% cut.
Hickey said she hopes each program can find creative ways to save money on team travel, meals, recruiting trips, equipment and other expenditures to help offset the cuts.
To protect its student-athlete scholarship money, EWU opted to take losses in operations.
“Instead of flying charter, you’d fly commercial,” Hickey said. “Instead of having a team meal in the hotel, you go to Golden Corral.
“We’re looking at scheduling games where you can bus instead of fly, cutting down the number of games, be more careful about how we spend on equipment. Where we recruit, as we have a lot of international kids in our tennis program, so we’re looking at how we’re recruiting. We want to get as many in-state student-athletes as we can. It’s tough.”
EWU men’s basketball coach Shantay Legans, who won a Big Sky Conference title last season, is confident his program can work around the lack of money.
“It’s very doable. We’ve been doing more with less for a long time,” Legans said. “We have to be smart and use our heads. It’s something we can all do. I don’t think our players will feel it, and we always want to do what’s best for them.”
Some NCAA Division I schools have recently cut nonrevenue sports to help make up for their coronavirus-induced losses, including Big Sky members Northern Colorado and Southern Utah, which cut their tennis programs.
EWU has 14 athletic programs and can’t field any fewer due to Title IX restrictions, but if economic problems worsen, Hickey said, the school may look into the possibility of getting a waiver from NCAA to suspend a program for a season.
“We’ve been able to stay away from that, largely because our whole staff has stepped up to take cuts” Hickey said.
The future of EWU football – ranked in multiple preseason Top 25 polls – is uncertain for 2020 schedule due the pandemic.
Roughly 80 percent of last season’s season ticket holders have renewed for the 2020 season.
“Our athletic program has about 1,000 donors,” Hickey said. “We should have about 3,000, and that’s what we’re working toward.”
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