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One-on-one with Athletic Director Wren Baker: How COVID-19 is financially affecting UNT sports

One-on-one with Athletic Director Wren Baker: How COVID-19 is financially affecting UNT sports

DENTON, TX - March 14: North Texas Mean Green Mens Basketball Head Coach Grant McCasland at the Super Pit Arena and Apogee Stadium in Denton, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts Photography/ Manny Flores)

One-on-one with Athletic Director Wren Baker: How COVID-19 is financially affecting UNT sports
April 10
12:26 2020

With the cancellation of all spring sports, North Texas’ athletics department faces potentially steep revenue losses and the possibility of no fall sports. Here is what Athletics Director Wren Baker had to say on all subjects regarding how COVID-19 has impacted North Texas athletics in concert with his solutions to overcome them.

How is the cancellation of spring sports affecting the athletic department financially? 

So far the biggest hit we’ve had has been in the NCAA monies, which they distribute a substantial portion of what they make from the NCAA basketball tournament. So that number right now looks in the range of $900,000 — but it’s possible that [Conference USA] could look into allocating some reserves or something to help close that gap. We just don’t know the answer yet, what we know for sure is that roughly $900,000 is our number now, so we’ll just have to see if that number comes down or stays where it is. 

Was the $900,000 revenue that you could have made but aren’t due to the tournament being canceled?

Yeah, it was money that we expected to get that we aren’t getting. It’s money that the NCAA just distributes to all member institutions. It’s based on a formula and they give it to you through the conferences, sometimes, depending on how your conference is set up. Sometimes the conference retains some money for their operations and then we go from there. 

The money would have come regardless, we lost out on that money because there wasn’t [an NCAA Tournament]. Had we participated in the tournament, we would have had a chance to maybe make more money. But we were expecting and budgeted on that $900,000. 

In your estimation, how big of a loss in revenue is this going to cost the athletic department?

We don’t know yet, what we’ve done is run a variety of scenarios from best case to worst case. Our worst case for inside this fiscal year we figured out that it might be about 2.5 million. So, in the state of Texas, we run on a Sept. 1 fiscal year so we’re projecting out all the way through the end of August. So that’s where we kind of have that penciled in right now. Hopefully, it’ll be less and then we’re going back through and saving money anywhere we can. Any budgets that we have out there, any positions that come open, we’re looking at as, “Is this an absolutely essential position that we need to fill?” Anything we can do to fill that gap, we’re trying to do. 

Do you have a set plan for how to overcome these potential losses? 

We do. We’ve been working on a variety of different plans. It just comes down to being as lean as we can possibly be, cutting expenses where we can cut them. If there’s a piece of equipment that we don’t have to replace, let’s not replace it right now, let’s see if we can make it go one more year. We’re looking at capital projects and saying, “Okay is this something that has to be done right now or can this wait?” So anything we can do to defer costs until we kind of know what the resolution is here, that’s what we’re trying to do. 

What can you tell me about the details of the budget cuts being made? 

So we’ve already started freezing positions. We’ve frozen all sports operating and travel budgets. Right now, we’re not allowed to be out recruiting, the NCAA has made it a dead period. We don’t have teams that are traveling so we have frozen all staff travel. We’re going back and looking at equipment and putting in different opportunities for discounting and that kind of stuff so that we make sure our equipment budget stretches as far as possible. 

We’re going back and looking at our student-athlete health insurance, we always put some money back. Can we pull some money from that account, any account that we have that we could maybe pull back from, we would utilize to do that. So we think there’s, for sure, some savings there and some significant savings that we can apply towards the lost revenue. 

In your personal opinion, do you feel like there are going to be fall sports?

Well, I certainly am hopeful and I think right now it’s just too early to know. I mean none of us thought we’d be in the position that we’re in right now. I think the concern in the issues right now with COVID-19 is what we don’t know. Until more is known about the virus and until we see the curve flatten as everybody’s talking about and kind of see what the end of this looks like. It’s just really hard to be able to predict the future. But what I do believe there’s a lot of people who are deeply invested in trying to make sure that we are able to play a fall sports season. I know it’s important to our student-athletes and the community, but what is the most important thing is that we do what’s right for the health and safety of our campus community and the Denton community. 

How does the projected loss affect your Master Plan for North Texas athletics? 

In terms of the facility and any other areas of the master plan that might require a financial investment, we are not going to dive headfirst into initiatives that cost a lot of money right now. That’s not in the university’s best interest, not in our department’s best interest and so it’ll be foolish to do that. However, if we woke up on July 1 and the worst was behind us, and we weren’t having to worry about social distancing or stay at home orders, I think very quickly we could rebound and kind of figure out about what’s next. 

How exactly would the athletics department go about successfully rebounding once the pandemic comes to an end? 

Right now we don’t know how big the hole is going to be so you don’t know how much you have to climb out of. But I think that we have a lot of generous donors who have supported us over time, we’ve got a lot of resources that we’ve accumulated. We’ve had revenue streams that have been good to us the last couple of years. Once we figure out how big those holes are, then we’ll just start to plug them. If we end up with a hole that’s bigger than what we think we can fill it with then we’re going to go out and find other ways to fill it. Whether that’s asking donors to help us out or whatever the case may be. 

If we’re able to get back and play in the fall, we can get through this. We always try to look at expenses as what’s elective, important and essential. Right now we’re only doing things that are essential. Right now the elective things are off the table, most of the important things are on hold, and we’re focused on the essentials and we’ll capture a lot of savings by doing that. Hopefully, if we have a revenue hit that’s inside of a million, I think we can plug that hole and find the savings. If it’s much greater than a million, and it could be, then we’ve got to figure out some other things, but if that’s the case it’ll be a campus-wide problem and we’ll all be in it together. We’ll put our minds together and we’ll find ways to solve it. 

Could students expect to see their student fees increased to help with the revenue losses? 

Our student fee right now is $16.25 per credit hour. It’s still quite a bit less than the average of the group of five schools in the state of Texas. I think they average around $22 an hour, so we’re on the low end of that. I don’t foresee us needing to go back to the students for a big increase. It just isn’t the environment or the time. We’re going to find a way to make it on what we have. I feel like we can do that and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to sing the woe is me blues because there’s a lot of people that are dealing with a lot worse. I’m not going to sit around and cry about where our budget is. We’re just going to find a way to cut where we need to cut and get through this and we’ll emerge stronger. 

Courtesy Rick Yeatts Photography/ Manny Flores

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Matt Suarez

Matt Suarez

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