Gopher Athletics is among the hundreds of intercollegiate athletics departments around the country facing significant financial challenges as responses to COVID-19 reshape sports calendars and limit revenue. In response to the department's anticipated $75 million revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year, the Board of Regents acted on Friday to approve a plan by the department to reduce staffing and staff compensation across its operations. The Board also reviewed a recommendation to discontinue four existing Gopher programs: men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis and men’s indoor and outdoor track and field.
Regents are anticipated to act on the proposed discontinuation of programs at the Board’s October meeting.
“Mark Coyle and his leadership team have consistently focused on maintaining championship quality for all 25 Gopher teams, but the pandemic and other challenges now facing the department are unlike any we have previously encountered,” said Board Chair Ken Powell. “I feel for everyone who will be deeply and personally affected by these necessary decisions. The difficult conditions we face require difficult and significant changes -- and while painful, they will position Gopher Athletics to best serve its student-athletes and staff members for many years to come.”
Gopher Athletics currently sponsors 25 different varsity programs, the fourth-most in the Big Ten. In the past two decades, 20 of these programs have combined to win 76 regular-season conference titles. Gopher student-athletes also regularly excel in the classroom, combining to give Minnesota more Academic All-Americans in the past five years than any other school in the Big Ten. This academic and athletic success has come despite the department operating on the conference’s eighth-largest budget.
For some time, Gopher Athletics has monitored closely the imbalance between the number of sponsored sports and total budget. Future sustainability issues, both financial and related to Title IX, have previously indicated that changes in the department would eventually be necessary. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the dramatic change it has caused in collegiate athletics greatly increased the urgency of addressing those concerns.
“These changes shift how Gopher Athletics looks in the long-term, but in the short-term it's important to remember that the lives of our student-athletes and employees are also changed. These are people with tremendous passion and commitment and my heart goes out to each and every one of them,” said University President Joan Gabel. “We will immediately turn our focus to supporting those most impacted by this decision, and helping every student-athlete and employee in Gopher Athletics work through this incredibly challenging moment in our history, while also preparing the department for a successful future.”
As part of its proposal, Gopher Athletics would provide the opportunity for these four programs to compete in their respective 2020-21 seasons before they are discontinued, should health and safety precautions allow. Regardless of competition seasons this year, the department will honor the scholarships of all impacted student-athletes throughout their undergraduate studies, as well as ensuring continued access to academic advising, sports psychology and other mental health resources, and any necessary access to athletic medicine. Those who may elect to transfer will be supported throughout that process.
In its presentation to the Board, athletics leadership shared that it considered financial implications, gender-equity requirements, community impact, local and national interest, competitiveness and sport sponsorship at the Big Ten and NCAA Division I level when developing its proposal.
In addition, the Board approved the department’s personnel cost-reduction plan. This plan comes in addition to previously implemented, University-wide furlough and pay reduction initiatives. It will affect employees differently based on their job classification, but in some cases will result in a 10-percent reduction in appointment and in others will result in being furloughed for 17 days by the end of this fiscal year. Those making $40,000 per year or less will be exempt. Beyond these reductions, the plan will eliminate eight positions in addition to those that will be eliminated if the Board approves the discontinuation of the sports programs outlined above.
These cost-saving measures are the latest from Gopher Athletics. The department had reduced its operating expenses, while increasing revenue, in each of the past two years. Throughout the past six months, Gopher Athletics also adopted all previously mentioned campus-wide cost reduction measures, as well as hiring and spending freezes and two separate voluntary pay reductions for its top earners.
The Board also:
- Discussed Gabel’s recommended six-year capital plan and 2021 state capital request, as well as the proposed fiscal year 2022 and 2023 biennial budget request. Each of these three recommendations are made by the University’s president as part of the institution’s budgeting process. The University’s operating budget requires Board approval.
- Received updates on academic program changes, projected student enrollment, and other items related to the upcoming fall semester from Executive Vice President and Provost Rachel Croson and other University leaders.
- Heard strategies for enhancing diversity and inclusion among University staff in the third installment of a three-part series on diversity and inclusion led by Dr. Michael Goh, the University’s vice president for equity and diversity.
- Received an annual report on private giving from the University of Minnesota Foundation, as well as an update on the Driven campaign. Foundation CEO Kathy Schmidlkofer shared that a record-breaking year for philanthropy in fiscal year 2020 provided significant support to students and faculty.
- Elected Myron Frans as the Board’s incoming treasurer, a position Frans will assume when he joins the University as its senior vice president for finance and operations on Sep. 30.
The Board of Regents is scheduled to meet next on Oct. 8-9, 2020. Visit regents.umn.edu for more information.