Tough budget questions face UT athletics

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Some hard decisions will have to be made come the fall if the football season is severely curtailed or even canceled. Football provides 66 percent of the revenue for the University of Tennessee athletic department. The budget is $143 million and $96 million comes from football.

What are the options?

  • Eliminate non-revenue sports?
  • Fire lower paid staffers and support personnel?
  • Ask for money from the UT academic budget?
  • Ask the legislature for a supplemental budget appropriation?

Frank Cagle

Or, here’s an idea. In 2019 the salaries of the 10 UT football coaches totaled $11 million, almost $4 million of that going to head coach Jeremy Pruitt. UT paid Athletic Department honcho Phil Fulmer millions to go away and is paying him $1million a year to come back.

(Basketball coach Rick Barnes is paid $3.5 million and his three assistants total about a million dollars.)

There is some discussion around the Power Five football conferences about cutting high salaries of coaches and athletic directors to preserve jobs and pay the bills in the face of reduced revenue. The five big conferences normally generate $4 billion in revenue for 50 schools. Athletic Director Jamie Pollard at Iowa State started the discussion by asking for give backs from highly paid coaches to preserve the jobs of the department’s support staff. Some highly paid coaches around the SEC may be asked to defer some salary and bonuses. From a public relations standpoint can you pay Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban $7.5 million for a year in which there is no football?

Do you lay off employees or ask for taxpayer supplements while paying the usual exorbitant salaries of coaches? The contracts are likely iron-clad, negotiated by agents out to get the last dime possible. If there are any give backs one assumes it will be voluntary. But what will be the fan reaction?

If a regular season of football is made possible, what hit will revenues take? Will fans want to sit shoulder to shoulder in a stadium, maybe out in cold rainy weather? Considering exploding unemployment rates and stay-at-home orders, will fans have the money to make a contribution and then buy season tickets? If the stadium is sparsely populated what does it do to concessions? Ticket sales alone for football is $29 million.

My point is that things will not be normal in many places and areas of our life. People are making sacrifices, from heroic health care workers to small business people struggling to take care of employees, to children missing school.

Maybe college football coaches and athletic directors should follow their lead.

Luck or what? I know that Nashville and Memphis have larger populations than Knoxville and maybe that accounts for it. But look at the numbers from the Coronavirus as of the weekend. Nashville had 1,465 cases and 20 deaths. Memphis had 1,731 cases and 37 deaths. Knoxville? Just 189 cases and only four deaths.

I like to credit sensible citizens with good leadership. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon have done a great job managing the situation, along with Health Department Director Dr. Martha Buchanan.

I’m supposed to be a high-risk target of the virus, old and in bad health. I’ve been holed up on the farm for five weeks now. But demographic information shows that the largest percentage of infections is the 21- to 30-year-olds. In other words, the biggest danger is to young people who have to go out to work to support their families. Those performing essential services. We have to stay six feet away, so send a virtual hug to the young people at the grocery store and other places trying to keep our economy from suffering a complete breakdown.

Hurt only lasts a little while: I can sympathize with the high school seniors who were not able to attend prom this year because of the pandemic. My high school was integrated my senior year and they canceled the prom. The students had no problem with integration but paranoid parents were certain that trouble would break out. They feared the “Mashed Potato” and the “Twist” would lead to a race riot.

If it’s any consolation to the students, a year from now you will be moving on with your life, going to work or to college or both. You’ll stay in touch with the friends you want to keep and pretty soon life its-own-self will intervene to the point you will have challenges beyond missing a dance. And it makes a good story at the 50th reunion.

Quote of the week: Bill Maher on over hyped headlines: “You don’t need to put hot sauce on a Jalapeno.”

Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.


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