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Scoggins: Can every Gophers sport survive the budget cutting ahead?

Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle will present a plan to the Board of Regents on Friday for how his department plans to tackle revenue losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an outline released last week, the department revealed that it has lost $4 million and is targeting a “double-digit reduction in operating budget.”

What’s not known is whether that double digit is 10 percent or a figure considerably higher. If it’s 10 percent, that would equate to $12.3 million from the $123 million budget.

Some members of the department, including Coyle, his senior staff and coaches P.J. Fleck, Richard Pitino and Lindsay Whalen, have taken pay reductions of different degrees.

But to reach that $12.3 million mark (or more depending on what Coyle announces), the Gophers will need to dig deeper than pay cuts and furloughs.

The extent of those cuts hinges greatly on what happens with the football season. Not just here but across all of college sports.

If the football season is canceled, draconian measures will be necessary because football is the cash cow that drives college athletics. Hopefully that’s not the case. Different scenarios are being discussed by conference leaders including an on-time start to the season, a short delay, or possibly moving the season to winter.

Everything is so fluid that it’s hard to guess what will happen with any certainty because there are 130 FBS schools in 10 conferences plus independents and realistically, not all states will re-open at an identical pace.

But let’s focus on the Gophers and their budget as it stands. First, start with a basic premise that no school wants to eliminate sports as a response to this crisis. It’s already happened at Cincinnati and at Old Dominion, and I’m sure those won’t be isolated cases as schools wrestle with lost revenue and come to the conclusion that they have no other alternative. But that is the last resort option for most schools.

The Gophers have a $123 million budget, which ranks 8th in the Big Ten. Their 25-sport department ranks 4th in the conference in sponsored sports.

For context and to show how much the arm’s race in college sports has altered the picture, here’s some data from the ‘19 fiscal year compared to the 2012 athletic budget:

Total operating revenue:

2012: $83.6 million

Current: $130.4 million

Total expenses:

2012: $83.6 million

Current: $129.4 million

First reaction is, Whoa. That’s a big spike in revenue and spending in just seven years. The revenue jump is easily explained – TV money. Conference networks and various media rights distribution have pumped billions of dollars into college athletics the past decade-plus, pushing the arm’s race to new heights in the primary areas of facilities, salaries and staffing.   

In terms of expenses, the growth can be attributed to many factors. For example, the cost of scholarships for the Gophers has increased from $9.6 million in 2012 to $13.8 million at present. Attending college is considerably more expensive now.

The Gophers also count about $12 million in debt service for athletic facilities.

But a few budget categories also highlight just how much the landscape has changed college sports and where Coyle likely will look in cutting costs:

Coaching salaries, benefits and bonuses:

2012: $10.3 million

Current: $22.2 million

Support staff/administrative compensation, benefits, bonuses:

2012: $9.9 million

Current: $21.0 million

Team Travel:

2012: $5.7 million

Current: $8.3 million

As a long-time college sports administrator told me recently: “It’s hard to go backward on salaries.” That is true, but as I’ve written what seems like countless times in the past two months, these are unprecedented times. Here is what Coyle told me in late March after the sports world had just shut down:

“There is no doubt in my mind that it’s going to look very different when we come out of this. I don’t know what that’s going to look like. But the financial impact on all of us is going to be felt and how we do things is going to look different.”

University weighs multiple options for fall semester

Pay reductions and hiring freezes already are in effect. Coyle’s regent outline also notes that three senior staff members who left the department have not been replaced. Travel budgets and scheduling likely will look different coming out of this crisis, too.

The travel budget has grown significantly over the years because traveling in general has become more expensive, the Big Ten’s footprint has grown with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, the move to Big Ten hockey and increased use of charter over commercial, among other factors.

I expect non-revenue teams to shift to more regional scheduling in non-conference to save money.

A few examples …

This season, the softball team – with travel expenses of $450,000 – made road trips to Florida (twice), Texas, Alabama, California and Hawaii. They opened their season in Florida on Feb. 7 and weren’t slated to host their first home game until March 27.

The department reported operating revenues of $177,000 for softball in the 2019 fiscal year.

This is not to highlight softball only. The women’s soccer team played road matches in California, Mississippi and Virginia. The men’s tennis team played in Florida, California, Massachusetts.

Coyle can’t fix the weather, but the Gophers have to find an alternative to that expense. Scheduling more regional opponents seems like a logical step. Or perhaps schedule fewer games.

The NCAA requires a minimum number of games each team must play to count as a sponsored sport. For instance, the minimum for baseball and softball is 27. Soccer is 11.

The Gophers softball team already had played 25 non-conference games before the season was shut down. They had 54 regular-season games scheduled, counting their Big Ten season.

Coaches will argue that a full, competitive schedule helps recruiting and in building a successful program. That’s no doubt true. But those ideas to save money would be a small concession if the alternative is to eliminate sports.

Every department must remain Title IX compliant while cutting costs. Every athletic director faces tough decisions in recovering from a crisis that doesn’t have an expiration date. We’ll get a glimpse of Coyle’s plan on Friday.

Scoggins' mailbag: What's up with the U's softball coach leaving?

Thanks for your mailbag questions. Let's get to it ...

Q: If the NCAA decided to pay players? How long before a player sues for higher pay or free agency? -- @Billfehlberg

A: The NCAA’s Board of Governors announced Wednesday its support for NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) legislation, which is a big step in athletes being compensated. We’ll never see the NCAA or individual schools favor a system in which they pay athletes a salary. That’s too complicated in terms of who gets what and how much.

I’ve long supported this Olympic model of allowing athletes to profit off their name or likeness. I’ll have more on this in a column this weekend, but a star athlete for the Gophers in any sport should be able to earn income through autograph signings, social media or by appearing in commercials or billboards for a company. This change should take effect by January 2021. It’s long overdue.

The next big rule change will be to allow athletes a one-time transfer in which they can transfer without penalty one time. That is expected to happen soon.

Q: Gopher Football Bateman and Faalele leave early and where do they get drafted? do they keep the recruiting success going? Provided they play, do they win the Big Ten West? -- @DeltaSig72

A: Bateman looks like a first-round pick next year, assuming he declares after his junior season. He has all the physical tools to be a star in the NFL.

I thought Daniel Faalele was inconsistent early in the season (same with entire line) but improved as the season progressed. Scouts obviously will love his size and ability to move defenders in the run game. It will be important for him to stay healthy, dominate opposing defensive ends and just keep developing his technique and all those things that NFL scouts dissect in evaluating linemen.

As far as Fleck’s recruiting success, I don’t see it slowing down. If anything, I think his staff will continue to land more high-profile recruits as the program’s “brand” gains more national attention. Fleck is relentless as a recruiter and now he can sell tangible progress (11 wins) and momentum in his program (Outback Bowl, College GameDay, recruiting rankings, 5 players drafted, top-notch facilities.)

On third point, I’d pick either Gophers or Wisconsin to win the Big Ten West.

Q: Maybe you have written this and I missed it but I'd be interested in your insight on AAU hoops growth here and how its turned us into state of basketball. -- @Brianallie

A: I did a project in 2017 examining this question. Here is that story. Minnesota was late to the game in allowing kids to play AAU basketball. Once the MSHSL opened the door, the growth of basketball in Minnesota skyrocketed. This truly has become a basketball state when you consider at all the blue-chip high school talent being produced.

Q: I’d like to know more about the Gopher softball coach departure. Takes team to the college World Series and is only offered a 1 year contract? Seems they gave her an offer she had to refuse. Is there a backstory there? -- @kpow55125

A: Typically, coaches get big raises or new deals after winning championships or taking their team on a deep postseason run. That didn’t happen in Jamie Trachsel’s case.

The fact that Gophers AD Mark Coyle only offered Trachsel a one-year extension after leading her team to the College World Series suggests a few possibilities.

One possibility: Perhaps there were issues behind the scenes that haven’t been made public that caused Coyle to take a lukewarm approach.

Another possibility: Coyle is worried about the financial situation in his department with the pandemic and realizes he couldn’t get into a bidding war for a coach in a sport that loses money.

Every Gophers sport already faced some belt-tightening with their budget in recent years. The COVID-19 crisis will require more than belt-tightening.

Schools are eliminating sports as a result of lost revenue. The situation will become exponentially worse if the football season gets cancelled or delayed until early 2021. Athletic directors will have to make hard decisions in the coming months as they deal with massive revenue loss.

The Gophers softball program reported revenues of $177,000 and operating expenses of $1.8 million the last fiscal year. They opened this season with road trips to Florida (twice), Texas, Alabama, California and Hawaii. Funding a spring sport in a northern state gets expensive.

Trachsel nearly doubled her salary ($245,000 compared to $140,000 with the Gophers) in taking over the Ole Miss program. Good career move for her. But I don’t fault Coyle for not making the same financial commitment in softball as the SEC and other southern schools do.

Q: I saw recently that the NWHL expanded their league with a new franchise in Toronto, I would take this as a signal that the league is healthy. Any word on how the Whitecaps are weathering the storm? -- Emailer Kenneth

A: I checked with Whitecaps co-coach/GM Jack Brodt, who said “we’re doing fine.”

The Whitecaps were scheduled to travel to Boston to play in the NWHL championship game when the sports world got shut down in mid-March. Brodt said he doubts that game will be played once sports resume.

The league held its draft this week, and Brodt said he remains hopeful the season will start on time in November.

Q: My question is about the Gopher Football team: Whenever the next college football season is, what role do you see Zack Annexstad playing for the team, if any? -- Emailer Karl

A: I’m assuming he will compete for the backup job with Jacob Clark and Cole Kramer. Annexstad’s injuries have been unfortunate, but Tanner Morgan has developed into one of the top quarterbacks in college football. I thought one of those backups might transfer because that happens so frequently with quarterbacks these days but all of them are still here.

Q: What was the most insightful/truthful response given to you by a coach that made you take pause? -- @Olewon178

A: Well, it wasn’t given directly to me but as a young reporter working in North Carolina in 1996, I was there for one of Jim Mora’s epic meltdowns after his New Orleans Saints team lost to the Panthers because they couldn’t do diddly poo.

Q: Favorite Hazy IPA -- @SethSimonson

A: My IPA rotation:

Surly Furious

Indeed Hop Dab

Indeed Flavorwave

Steel Toe 7

Cigar City Jai Alai

Q: Do the Vols have to wait for Peyton’s kids to compete for national titles again? -- @jgbaskin

A: I sure hope not. I have faith my Vols are on the rise. And when we win the national title, I’ll be there celebrating in the stadium wearing this and singing this ...