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Sports >  WSU football

Even as new partnership provides ‘ray of sunshine,’ Washington State grapples with dark realities of pandemic

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 12, 2020

A large sculpture of a cougar wears a face mask at dusk on Friday, April 17, 2020, outside Washington State University’s Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Many people in in Pullman are also wearing face masks to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus.  (Geoff Crimmins / Moscow-Pullman Daily News)
A large sculpture of a cougar wears a face mask at dusk on Friday, April 17, 2020, outside Washington State University’s Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Many people in in Pullman are also wearing face masks to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus. (Geoff Crimmins / Moscow-Pullman Daily News)

During a Zoom call with reporters Friday, Pat Chun described the Pac-12 Conference’s new partnership with Quidel Corporation as “a ray of sunshine.”

By the end of the month, Washington State and other schools in the conference will be able to test their athletes daily – something that’s been considered a breakthrough in the race to get college sports back.

Even with a light at the end of WSU’s proverbial tunnel, however, athletic director Chun knows there are still more than a few dim days ahead.

One of those came Friday, when WSU announced its latest wave of cost-cutting measures to offset the revenue the school has lost, and will continue to lose, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Because projections suggest WSU will lose approximately $30 million in revenue this fall, the department was forced to take a more intense approach to cost containment than it did in April, when the school announced voluntary salary reductions for president Kirk Schulz, Chun, football coach Nick Rolovich and men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith.

Now, rather than the 5% reductions they accepted in the spring, three of the four – Chun, Rolovich and Smith – have agreed to 15% salary reductions through the remainder of the 2020-21 academic year. Women’s basketball coach Kamie Ethridge will take a 12.5% reduction, as the school implements cost-cutting plans that could save up to $3.4 million.

Every other head coach, assistant coach and contracted staff member has been asked, or mandated, to take a 10% salary reduction.

Last month, it was learned all noncontracted staff members would be required to take multiple furlough weeks this fall. According to Friday’s update, those two furlough weeks must be taken by Nov. 20, and will now be supplemented by two more furlough weeks, between Feb. 1-June 1, 2021.

The cost-containment strategy, combined with a reduction of operating expenses estimated at about $3.1 million, will save WSU approximately $6.5 million in the 2021 fiscal year, Chun said.

Ideally, the school’s top revenue sports, football and men’s basketball, will resume some form of competition by Jan. 1, 2021, which could help WSU avoid a third brainstorming session on how to cut athletic department costs.

“Well, it’s a dynamic situation, which we all know,” Chun said. “Now we really have to sit and wait where we land with our revenue sports and which types of schedules they’ll be able to play.”

Seven of the 10 positions that were eliminated had come open, and were left unfilled, since the pandemic started. Three other people were laid off, Chun said.

According to Chun, the majority of the jobs eliminated were “externally facing” positions that dealt with revenue generation.

To reach $3.1 million in reduced operating expenses, WSU’s athletic department made significant cuts to its marketing budget. Because of the NCAA-mandated recruiting dead period, the Cougars have also cut back on recruiting expenses and travel.

“There’s a lot of equipment replacement we’re not going to do this year,” Chun said. “So, it’s really across the board. There’s not a lot to cut in our athletic department. That’s why I can always use that term, we operate as the most fiscally efficient (department) amongst the Power Five.

“So, for us to cut, it isn’t sustainable long-term, but the reality for us is we’re doing our best to survive this current year and like I said, there’s positivity because of the announcement last week with the testing.”

The agreement with Quidel Corporation, one of the top American manufacturers of diagnostic health care products and a leader in the development point of care COVID-19 testing, was labeled by Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott as “groundbreaking.”

By the end of the month, WSU and the other 11 conference members will have machines that allow rapid testing, capable of churning out COVID-19 results in 15 minutes or less.

“That in itself was such a huge hurdle for the conference, to be able to get our sports going,” Chun said. “I think there’s a lot of optimism moving forward … now we’ve just got to figure out how many games we can play, how that affects our TV partners and where we land from a conference distribution standpoint. So, it’s still a moving target, still a lot of unknowns out there, but I would say there’s a ray of sunshine coming through with that announcement last week, knowing we have a huge piece of what we need to move forward.”

Upon announcing the agreement last week, Scott didn’t address the financial component of the partnership with Quidel. Chun reiterated Friday, “The terms are still being worked upon, on what will be handled from the center and what will be handled on our campus.”

Even by making a decision that was unpopular to many, the Pac-12 has been lauded for its transparency, detailing the science and research that led to the postponement of the football season. That hasn’t been consistent in other conferences, though, and the Big Ten, a league with which Chun is familiar from his days at Ohio State, has been under scrutiny for lapses in communication since making its own decision to postpone the season.

“Since Day 1, our league has done a really exceptional job building working groups, building communication lines and we’re still meeting three days a week as athletic directors,” Chun said. “So there’s been constant communication from the CEO group all the way through out coaches, the ADs and medical people. So, it’s worked well for us, it’s served us well. It’s allowed us to probably be very streamlined and concise about how we operate.”

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