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Pandemic Year Shorts Arizona Athletics Budget $26M

The University of Arizona athletic department had a $26 million deficit during the 2020-21 fiscal year, which doesn’t include $10.5 million the university paid to buy out former coaches Sean Miller and Kevin Sumlin and some of their assistant coaches, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

According to the Daily Star, the department is taking a 15-year "bridge" loan from the university to pay off the debt, athletic director Dave Heeke said Wednesday.

Coaching buyouts will cost the university $4.3 million more for the 2021-22 fiscal year, bringing the total cost of buying out Sumlin, Miller and assistants on multiyear contracts to $14.8 million. The UA is the first Pac-10/12 team in conference history to replace — and buy out — its football and men’s basketball coaches in the same academic year.

The coronavirus pandemic crushed collegiate athletics beginning in March 2020, leading to the cancellation of the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments, the College World Series and Women’s College World Series and putting fall and winter sports in jeopardy.

The Pac-12 pushed forward with football and basketball seasons starting last fall, but the games were played in empty stadiums and arenas. While the UA and other schools collected television money by playing, there was still a big financial impact.

The UA finished the 2020-21 fiscal year $45 million short of its revenue projections, Heeke said, but was able to make up about $19 million by cutting expenses, freezing positions and laying off staff.

Heeke said the UA considered taking a loan offered last fall by the Pac-12 to conference member schools before determining it was "more appropriate" for UA to borrow from campus.

“The university maintains that’s a better way to utilize those resources,” he said.

The return of fans, pandemic permitting, should help finances.

Not all financial news was so bleak.

The athletic department raised $26 million in donations during the 2020-21 fiscal year — $8 million more than the year before, Heeke said. It’s on pace to raise “a record” amount in 2021-22, Heeke added, thanks in part to the excitement surrounding the football program.

Ticket sales are also up. The UA has sold 2,800 new season tickets for football while retaining 94% of its current season ticket holders, Heeke told the Star. The men’s basketball program has a 92% retention rate and has added 250 new season ticket holders following the hiring of first-year coach Tommy Lloyd.

And the UA women’s basketball program, coming off its first-ever Final Four, has more than doubled its season ticket base from the 2019-20 season. The Wildcats now boast more than 4,800 season ticket holders, Heeke told the newspaper.

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