The year 2020 has been difficult, to say the least. As small business owners and self-employed folks have grappled with the harsh realities of an economy in a pandemic for months, the North Carolina Tar Heels athletic department has announced their second cost-cutting measure.
Carolina Athletics already announced a 10-percent budget cut for 2020-21, instituted a spending freeze, restricted all non-essential travel, and are not currently filling open positions in the department.
Coaches and staff members making $200,000 or more will have their salaries reduced by 20 percent, Coaches and staff members making $100,000 to $200,000 will have their salaries reduced by 10 percent, and Coaches and staff members who make less than $100,000 will be furloughed for 15 days.
These reductions will be in effect until June 30, 2021.
In the statement, the athletic department described the factors behind this decision:
We expect to lose between $30 million and $52 million of projected revenue, including ticket sales, sponsorship and television revenue, conference distributions and concessions sales. This is money that we count on to fund our 28 teams and provide scholarships and important services to our student-athletes (including academic, medical and nutritional support).
The cancellation of spring sports, plus the summer break on the academic calendar, likely helped UNC float along until this point.
Carolina cancelled football season tickets for 2020. The department came back later providing options for the season ticket holders. One of the options was a donation to the Rams Club for the value of the season tickets, in lieu of a refund or deferment to 2021.
Additionally, UNC has followed in the steps of MLB teams in creating fan cutouts for the seats. This is another creative fundraising appeal (starting at $50!), but not a good sign for those hoping for a return to the seats this fall.
However, as collegiate athletic departments look at the months ahead, there does not seem to be any more certainty than when the ACC announced the plans for returning to fall sports.
North Carolina, NC State, and more schools are moving online. Students are not on campus.
There are still in-person meeting limits in the state with only incremental and arbitrary mandates from the Capitol in Raleigh.
A scheduled game next Saturday between NC State and Virginia Tech has already been postponed due to a COVID-19 cluster with some Wolfpack players. If more situations like this occur, what is the course of action?
And who knows about fall sports? Cross country, field hockey, volleyball, and men’s and women’s soccer were included in the ACC’s return to play plan, but there are no scheduled games.
And why would they? NCAA President Mark Emmert announced in mid-August that “the NCAA will not hold DI fall championships this year.”
As sports fans, we want the game back on the field. We want to see the Tar Heels win and love those fall tailgates in Chapel Hill. But we need to step back and consider the impact.
As UNC football head coach Mack Brown has stated repeatedly, the health of the players and coaches are the top priority. If that changes, either because of clusters or new medical information, then the team will not play.
Next, the uncertainty around the other fall sports is difficult for those student-athletes. Most of the attention at Carolina and across the country is on football, and those sports may feel like an afterthought to anyone outside of those programs. If they want to compete, and can do so safely, they should have the opportunity to play this fall.
Lastly, the economic impact stretches beyond those direct pay cuts. It is easy to dismiss the 20 percent cut for the handful of staff over $200,000, but it is a tough pill to swallow for the major of staff that makes under $100,000 to be furloughed.
Think about those who may have a second or third part-time job working at Kenan in the parking lot or as stadium staff. They were counting on those six games in the fall to help make ends meet or get them to their next goal in life. Combine that with work for soccer or field hockey, and that is quite a bit of lost hours and wages.
And do not forget about the concession stands. Boy Scout troops, marching bands, and advocacy groups use those opportunities at football games to fundraise so that they can fulfill their missions in creating a better life for those they serve.
As uncertainty lingers, consider the human element and the tough decisions that must be made as the pandemic continues.