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Iowa Football Coaches Declined Salary Cuts Amid COVID

Tabatha Wethal

The University of Iowa athletic department said that none of its contracted football coaches elected to take a reduced salary the university announced last year amid the pandemic, according to a report from The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The football coaches including head coach Kirk Ferentz didn’t participate in voluntary salary reductions the university announced a year ago in light of COVID-19 losses the department projected, causing it to eliminate several Hawkeye sports and take out a $50 million loan from the main campus.

On June 30, 2020, which was the start of the 2021 budget year, UI Athletics announced all its contracted staff were being asked to consider participating in a voluntary, temporary salary reduction option or making a donation back to the department sometime during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, senior associate athletics director Matt Henderson told The Gazette.

Even before that reduction-request announcement, many big-name coaches already had signed contract amendments to take the pay cut, including Fran McCaffery, head coach of the men’s basketball team; Lisa Bluder, head coach of the women’s basketball squad; Tom and Terry Brands, head and associate head wrestling coaches; and head coaches of the Hawkeye volleyball, rowing, field hockey, women’s gymnastics, women’s tennis, softball, soccer, baseball, golf and track and field programs, according to public records obtained by The Gazette.

Coaches of the now-eliminated Olympic sports — men’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis and men’s gymnastics — offered to take pay cuts, but the university later waived those.

At the time those coaches were taking reductions, the university was unclear whether any fall football season would materialize. Football is the department’s biggest moneymaker. It made about $22 million the 2020 fiscal year, not including tens of millions more in conference contributions, media rights revenue and football-specific philanthropy, the newspaper reported. That football revenue, which is mostly from ticket sales, was nearly seven times the $3.3 million men’s basketball generated that year.

When the Big Ten Conference last fall announced member universities could resurrect a shortened season of conference-only games, without public ticket sales, the Hawkeyes went 6-2 and qualified for the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl — a game they never played because of COVID cases on the opposing team, the University of Missouri.

The newspaper reported that 10 Hawkeye football coaches agreed “as part of the budget reductions” to forgo their bowl game bonuses, which saved the department $431,333. Ferentz did not forgo his $100,000 bowl game bonus.

The assistant coaches also didn’t earn their contractual seven-win bonuses because the team won six in the shortened season. Ferentz, too, missed his eight-win $500,000 bonus.

When UI Athletic Director Gary Barta in June 2020 announced the budget cuts and staff sacrifices, he said specifically that Bluder, McCaffery, Brands and Ferentz “have voluntarily agreed to a one-year, 15-percent base salary reduction or contribution back to the athletics department.”

While the other three by that time had signed contract amendments to reduce their respective salaries 15 percent — Bluder on June 22, McCaffery on June 23 and Brands on June 24 — Ferentz didn’t take a pay cut. Per his contract, his base salary increased $100,000 from $2.6 million in the 2020 budget year to $2.7 million in fiscal 2021, according to The Gazette report. 

Ferentz didn’t make any new philanthropic commitments to the department, but the newspaper reported he made good on a previous commitment to give annual installments totaling $400,000 for football letterwinner initiatives. Kirk and Mary Ferentz over time have given nearly $1 million to the athletics department. In 2017 announced a $1 million donation to the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

Henderson told The Gazette that last summer’s announcement of voluntary pay cuts or donations didn’t clarify timing or specify whether the coach commitments included previous pledges or new outright gifts.

“The intent of recognizing Kirk and Mary’s continued, generous philanthropy to athletics has not changed,” he said.

Compensation for the coaches and athletics executives who took voluntary cuts rebounded in the new budget year — per a clause in all the one-year amendments, The Gazette reported.

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