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UNC Athletics Budget Shortfall Drops From $30M to $6M

Tabatha Wethal

The budget shortfall in the athletics department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is turning out to be millions less than projected last year amid the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

About a year ago, athletic director Bubba Cunningham projected a loss in revenue of more than $30 million, a devastating figure to the 2020-21 fiscal year that school administrators initially feared, according to a Raleigh News & Observer report.

Cunningham told the News & Observer on Monday that the shortfall is actually less than $6 million. Cunningham and Rams Club executive director John Montgomery also penned a letter that was emailed to club members Monday.

“It was a combination of the hiring freeze, spending freeze, salary reductions — all of the things that we could do to manage our own expenses helped,” Cunningham told the newspaper. “Then, you know, we had no recruiting because everyone was in a dead period. We reduced all of our schedules for regional competition non-conference and we reduced our schedules by 10 and 20 percent, even in the ACC, so everyone played fewer games.”

The biggest factor creating distance between the projected number and the actual shortfall was playing football and men’s basketball. Cunningham said initial estimates in mid-2020 of potentially $40-50 million in losses were projected in case COVID-19 canceled all seasons.

Cunningham said the projected loss figure would have had a significant, long term effect on the program’s daily operation.

“You know, carrying $6 million forward with interest is a lot different than carrying $30 million,” Cunningham said.

During the 2019-20 fiscal year, with full attendance and sports playing their full schedules, UNC received more than $23 million in media rights payments. Cunningham said he expected the 2021-22 budget to return to normal, which will include revenue boosts from ticket sales and being allowed to have 100 percent capacity for football.

The Tar Heels also announced on Monday that football season tickets for 2021 have sold out.

Donations helped bridge the gap, too, the department said. The Carolina Victory Fund, created to curtail pandemic-related losses, had a goal of raising $2 million but exceeded that, raising $5.2 million, according to the letter.

Including money taken from a reserve fund, Cunningham said about $10 million in donations helped to lessen losses.

Football season-ticket holders from 2020 had the option of getting refunds or rolling their payments over to the 2021 season. But UNC received $2.4 million from season-ticket holders who allowed the athletic department to keep their payment as a gift.

“We just finished an unprecedented year, I couldn’t be more proud of how you reacted how our students reacted; and how our coaches reacted,” Cunningham said in a short video emailed to Rams Clubs members. “It was a challenge financially, operationally and in the classroom and each and everyone of you stepped up at the opportune time.”

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