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Dealing with Athletic Budget Issues Related to COVID-19

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA on October 28, 2020 hst Print

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has created challenges for many athletic programs around the country. As a result, some athletic administrators are facing budget issues caused or related to the coronavirus. In addition to being concerned with the health and safety of their student-athletes and coaches, money – or lack thereof – may be another major hurdle.

“The pandemic has turned our lives upside down, and the end does not appear to be in sight,” said Doug Marchetti, athletic director at Norwalk (Connecticut) High School. “This means that we have worked to make adjustments, but the most difficult has been with the budget. We are looking at costs we never thought we would have to deal with or cover.”

Marchetti said there may be an increase in bus transportation due to social distancing or practicing at alternative sites, for example, and cleaning supplies, masks and thermometers are suddenly necessities.

Matt Heckel, athletic director at Dakota Ridge High School in Littleton, Colorado, suggested another expense related to the need for more thermometers: “Don’t forget the huge cost of batteries, because these devices go through them very quickly.”

While extra buses can be an unexpected additional cost, Jim Quatromoni, athletic administrator at Hingham (Massachusetts) High School anticipates that, “It may not be a paralyzing expense, since we will use all school district buses and ‘hope’ that the savings using this approach will help close the budget gap in other areas.” In another cost-cutting move, he added, “We are trying to only purchase the absolute bare-boned necessities and to do this on a seasonal basis instead of placing orders for the entire year.”

In the case of schools that are hosting games this fall or even later in the year, fans may not be allowed to attend, or, if so, in greatly reduced numbers, which would significantly affect the gate revenue.

Heckel anticipates a major budget cut since all gate receipts go to the district-wide budget. As a result, he has already communicated to his coaching staff to “be prepared for tremendous cuts and that there will be a gigantic need for fund-raising.”

In Massachusetts, attendance at outdoor venues is capped at 100 people. Even with this safeguard standard in place, Quatromoni noted the following: “We are able to ‘carry over’ a balance from year to year in our revolving account and this will help mitigate the loss of our gate revenue this year.”

In addition to agreeing with the need to keep unspent fundraising money, Heckel said his school depends a great deal on boosters.

“We will have to be extremely creative with our efforts,” Heckel said. “For example, concession stands may have to sell ‘grab and go’ pre-packaged sandwiches. We have been working with local restaurants to produce these items, which will also help their businesses as well as support our program.”

On the other hand, a very successful fundraiser was derailed at Dakota Ridge High School when the pandemic hit last spring. The baseball team annually participated in a long-standing ticket sale fund-raiser with the Colorado Rockies, and it was cancelled when the start of the Major League Baseball season was postponed. This resulted in a loss of $6,000, which represents the annual revenue for this initiative.

“This was a huge hit,” Heckel said. “The baseball caps and other supplies for the team had already been ordered, the bills arrived and they had to be paid. But we didn’t have the normal fundraising money to cover the cost. This was a major problem.”

The purchase of uniforms, which normally is done on a rotational basis, has been delayed or pushed back for at least a year at Norwalk High School. And postponing purchases also applies to large capital projects. “I will have to put many of these items on the back-burner until we get a better idea of where we are financially,” Marchetti said. “It may take several years to recover.”

“While delaying ordering new uniforms is absolutely necessary, we want to also extend this caution to other items,” Quatromoni added. “It is essential that we only order seasonally in the event of a potential return to remote learning and the pausing of athletics.”

And then there is the issue of coaching salaries. In some schools, spring sport coaches were already affected; and if seasons are shortened or cancelled again this year, there is no telling what will happen. At Hingham High School last spring, Quatromoni indicated that varsity coaches were paid 50 percent of their stipend and sub-varsity coaches 25 percent, and he expects the numbers to be similar this year.

Marchetti expressed concern about the possibility of lowering coaching salaries if there is a partial or full cancellation of a season.

“Most coaches work countless hours out-of-season conducting conditioning programs, fundraising, monitoring academic progress, assisting with college recruiting and helping athletes with their mental health,” Marchetti said. “It makes for an incredibly difficult situation when the year-round aspects of coaching are not properly recognized and appreciated.”

Heckel noted that some of his coaches have had to make difficult decisions – continuing to meet the needs of student-athletes and not being paid at times.

“A couple of our coaches had to choose between working with a higher-paying, community-based club team or remaining with the high school team with the possibility of not being paid,” Heckel said. “I am proud to say that they are staying with our program because they value the concept of education-based athletics.”

Needless to say, COVID-19 has created an understandable concern for the health and safety of student-athletes and coaches at schools across the country; however, it also has greatly affected how athletic administrators pay for the operation of the program. While there may be no simple easy answers, hard work, creativity and a cooperative attitude will make it happen.