Ohio State athletics facing cuts, significant revenue losses

Even with a significant reduction in costs, the Ohio State department of athletics projects to lose millions in the coming fiscal year.

While many unknowns still exists, the school shed some light on the financial picture Wednesday, announcing more than $36 million in reduced spending in the coming year.

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Twenty-five full-time positions are to be eliminated, more than 300 employees face furlough of some length, and contract employees are being asked to take a voluntary 5% reduction in base salary.

Those actions collectively could save $7 million while not having to pay opponent guarantees for nonconference games that were canceled earlier this year could result in a $3 million savings.

The department expects a $3.4 million savings in game-day expenses with only four home football games on the docket and few if any fans expected to be able to attend, and it hopes to save $9.6 million through short-term debt restructuring, $4 million on administration/support unit operating budgets, $3 million in facility operations and $6.1 million in sports' operating budget cuts.

That is in addition to a savings of $5.6 million from cuts made between the time the coronavirus pandemic hit in March and the end of the 2020 fiscal year.

After bringing in $210 million in 2019 (the most recent year for which full records are available), Ohio State is projecting roughly $73 million in revenue for 2021 from development ($28.6 million), the NCAA and Big Ten basketball tournaments and bowl games ($13.4 million), IMG/Learfield ($5.8 million), endowment and investment income ($4.6 million), the university golf course ($4.6 million), trademark and licensing ($2 million), camps and clinics ($1.7 million) and potentially a limited slate of men’s home basketball games ($1.1 million).

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Ohio State Director of Athletics Gene Smith said the $73 million does not include any potential revenue from television partners, which is still being negotiated after the league announced last week it will play a nine-game football schedule this fall instead of postponing to the winter or spring.

He would not guess how much the league and ultimately the schools might get from that arrangement, but it could be significant. The school reported receiving more than $45 million from rights fees in 2019.

Smith indicated the ultimate shortfall with a budget now projected to be $180 million would likely be covered by a loan from the university that may or may not come with interest.

“We’ve been self-supporting and will continue to be self-supporting,” Smith said of the athletics department. “So we’ve been working with our (university) Chief Financial Officer and his staff developing a long-term debt recovery plan. So as soon as we have better clarity on our numbers will be able to sit with him and his staff and develop a strategy whereby we pay back that loan over time.”

While a majority of college athletics departments are funded by the university, Ohio State is among the group that is not.

“We’ll pay back our debt,” Smith said. “When I was at Eastern Michigan, when we had those type of debts the institution covered those debts. And that is what happens across the country in a lot of schools, but there’s somewhere north of 20 that are self-sustaining, and we’re in that category so that’s how it’ll work for us.”

Cutting any of the department’s 36 sports, as many schools around the country have done in the past six months, is still not likely.

“Of course everything is an available option as we move into the future, but right now that’s not a major conversation,” Smith said.

“We really focus on football, that’s what we do,” said Smith, who played football at Notre Dame. “When you think about the other sports and you see them winning national championships, or you see them winning conference championships, and you see them performing at the top end academically and you see them graduating and staying in Central Ohio and staying in Columbus becoming contributors to our environment, there’s lessons learned in those sports or equivalent to football. There are.”

He added that a “super majority” of athletes at the school are not on full-ride scholarships like football and basketball players, bringing more revenue to the university.

Smith also said he had already talked to football coach Ryan Day and men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann and expects them to opt into the salary reduction, something that has to be done voluntarily through the HR department.

Before bonuses are factored in, Day is set to make $5.375 million this year, but of that only his $850,000 base salary is subject to the reduction. Holtmann, whose annual compensation before bonuses is $3 million, has a base salary of $550,000.

“We wanted everyone in the department to be the same, and obviously the 5% is on a bigger number so it’s a big number,” Smith said. “But at the end of the day, we wanted everyone to be treated the same. And we felt comfortable with that, and so does our team.”

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