Coronavirus: Ohio State athletics working to adjust budget on the fly

Ohio State athletics reported revenue of more than $210 million in 2019, and the department won’t match that this year.

Not much else is certain as the coronavirus pandemic continues to threaten the fall sports season.

“We’ve already made some adjustments in our budget,” Ohio State Director of Athletics Gene Smith said last week. “We’re working off of a two-month budget just like the rest of the university that was approved by the trustees.”

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The Big Ten’s decision to play only conference games in all fall sports was largely a matter of flexibility, Smith said, though it’s probably fair to view it as an attempt to stem further financial losses, too.

Ohio State spent $6,424,386 putting on games last year and took in $59,847,907 via ticket sales according to the 2019 financial year report the university sent to the NCAA.

The latter number is sure to be greatly reduced as Ohio State faces the prospect of playing games in front of no fans or with reduced capacity, but another major revenue source for college athletics remains on the table.

That would be the $45,607,941 Ohio State reported receiving for media rights last season, money that can be salvaged at least in part if the Buckeyes and the Big Ten are still able to deliver games to broadcast partners ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports and the Big Ten Network this season.

However much money Smith’s department is able to bring in over the next year, he anticipates at least some changes in spending habits will be permanent.

“I think there’s some new behaviors that are gonna be at play here as we move forward,” Smith said.

That includes utilizing new forms of communication to cut down on travel as well as simply managing money differently. “I think that will change across the country,” Smith said. “There’s different cost containment committees across the country that have emerged, and ideas will come out of that.

“Some of us old school guys have some some ideas around how we should do things around NCAA championships differently,” he said. “We have always had those ideas, and now we might have a chance to do that.”

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A look at Ohio State’s expenses shows a few potential areas to cut.

While the $22,070,556 in financial aid isn’t likely to shrink unless the university decides to drop some sports, something Smith said it still hopes to avoid even as other schools have already done so, but playing a more regional schedule in football and other sports could save some of the $12,445,537 in travel expenses.

The $39,295,656 spent on coaches’ salaries last year might also be locked in — Smith said at this point the school is also resisting cutting coach salaries, as Michigan and others have done recently — another $38,108,511 went to administrative and support staff that could conceivably shrink after expanding in recent years.

With the NCAA banning off-campus recruiting since March, the school could also save some of the $2,862,134 it spent in that area a year ago while game expenses figure to be reduced as well.

“Right now is very difficult to (evaluate our options) because we’re all kind of locked in to the challenge of positioning ourselves to make leadership-type decisions in the present,” Smith said. “It’s very difficult to look down the road.”

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Aside from the threat of the coronavirus, Smith also cited the social justice initiatives and the potential for college athletes to begin profiting off their name, image and likeness.

“When you have COVID-19 and social injustice issues and NIL looming, there’s a number of things and we’re just kind of drinking water through a firehose at this point.

“So we have been pretty fluid with this, and as we get more understanding of what our future looks like relative to all of our events, we’ll be more definitive with our budget.”

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