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Wisconsin warns of potential athletic department loss of $100M even with a football season

Nick Bromberg
·3 min read
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Wisconsin’s athletic department is warning fans and donors of a huge decrease in revenue even if the 2020 football season is played.

In a letter to supporters Thursday, athletic director Barry Alvarez said that the department is expecting an approximate $100 million budget shortfall. Wisconsin’s athletic budget is around $140 million, meaning the department could only get $40 million in revenue this upcoming athletic year.

“To this point, we have taken many steps over the past few months to minimize the impact of a cancelled winter postseason and spring season,” Alvarez wrote. “We have instituted pay decreases for our top 25 earners and workshare furloughs for all employees, put a freeze on almost all hiring, restricted travel, limited to essential-only spending and announced the delay of the South End Zone renovation project. These steps have allowed us to avoid the tough decisions other schools have already had to make, like eliminating sports or laying off employees.

“We have taken many steps, but we will have to do much more.

“Our fall season will look nothing like we are accustomed to. Due to the current challenges, we are facing a potential financial revenue loss of more than $100 million from our $140 million budget.”

Alvarez also wrote that “this financial crisis threatens our ability to sustain the success we’ve celebrated. It threatens our pride in what we’ve built. It threatens our position in college athletics.”

The Big Ten was the first FBS conference to announce that it was making changes to its football schedule because of the coronavirus. The conference said earlier in July that its teams would be playing a 10-game conference-only schedule and the Pac-12 soon followed suit.

That’s a reduction of two games from Wisconsin’s schedule and a likely one-game reduction to the Badgers’ home football schedule. Ticket revenue from home games is a significant revenue-driver for bigger schools. And Wisconsin was also set to make good money from a now-canceled matchup with Notre Dame at Lambeau Field.

According to USA Today’s database, Wisconsin had the 11th-most revenue of any athletic department in 2018-19. The Badgers had nearly $158 million in revenue with over $154 million in expenditures. Wisconsin took in more money in 2018-19 than schools like Florida State, Auburn, Tennessee, Clemson and Oregon.

Wisconsin isn’t likely the only school facing a budget shortfall of this magnitude. And these financial concerns are a major reason why conferences want to have a football season in 2020 even if the safest decision is to skip a fall season entirely. Schools need some semblance of revenue for their athletic departments and playing games with few or no fans in the stands to fulfill television contracts helps accomplish that goal.

The pay cuts Alvarez mentions in the letter happened in May. Alvarez, football coach Paul Chryst and men’s basketball coach Greg Gard all took 15 percent pay cuts. The school’s workshare program for other employees cut their hours while allowing them to make up some of that pay loss with state unemployment benefits. Per a May Wisconsin State-Journal article, the workshare program is set to end Saturday.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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