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Iowa Cuts Four Sports as Deficits Hit Big Ten

Brock Fritz

The University of Iowa cut four varsity sports as athletic departments across the United States continue to adjust to financial difficulties related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with Iowa’s Friday announcement, the Nebraska athletic department furloughed 51 employees through the end of 2020, the New York Institute of Technology suspended all of its athletic programs for two years, former Stanford athletes are protesting after the largest athletic department in the country cut 11 programs earlier this year, and Marshall postponed all Olympic sports until spring.

Iowa became the first Big Ten Conference member to cut athletic programs since the pandemic shut down all sports in mid-March. With the Big Ten postponing all fall sports with the hope of playing them in the second semester of 2020-21, Iowa is projecting about $100 million of lost revenue and an overall deficit between $60-75 million this fiscal year. Therefore, the university is discontinuing men’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and men’s tennis at the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year.

“The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a financial exigency which threatens our continued ability to adequately support 24 intercollegiate athletics programs at the desired championship level,” Iowa’s release reads. ”A loss of this magnitude will take years to overcome.  We have a plan to recover, but the journey will be challenging.

“We are committed to support and care for the impacted student-athletes, coaches and staff throughout the transition period.  All existing scholarships will be honored through graduation for those student-athletes who choose to remain at Iowa.  If a student-athlete wishes to transfer to another institution, we will assist them in every way possible.  In addition, we will continue to provide academic and mental health support as requested.  The contracts of affected coaches will be honored.”

Related content: Big Ten Commissioner: Decision to Cancel Fall is Final

The Lincoln Journal Star reported that Nebraska is also facing a projected $100 million deficit after the postponement of fall sports. According to the Journal Star, Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos expects to save about $3 million from furloughing 51 of more than 330 athletic department employees while the rest are getting a 10 percent salary reduction through 2020.

It was the second such cut for Nebraska’s athletic department, which laid off 17 full-time employees in June. The Journal Star reported that Nebraska football made $96.1 million in revenue during the 2019 fiscal year.

“This one is designed to furlough people whose good work is not going to be needed in the fall because we’ve got no events,” Moos said. “What we’re going to do is go four months, and I’ll tell you why. That gets us to Jan. 1, and I want that to be a new day.

“Moralewise, let’s suck it up for these four months. There aren’t going to be any events. And then we’re all back at it Jan. 1.”

According to The Associated Press, Stanford’s decision to cut 11 varsity sports earlier in the pandemic could have a lasting impact on the United States’ Olympic program. Nine of the 11 cut programs were Olympic sports. According to The AP, Stanford would have tied for 11th at the 2016 Rio Olympics if it was its own country.

The problem could get deeper if schools continue to discontinue athletic programs. The Associated Press reported that about 75 percent of the 558 U.S. Olympic athletes in 2016 came from the college sports system, while almost 85 percent of the 121 U.S. medal-winners were college athletes. Fifteen of the 121 U.S. medal-winners were Stanford alum, while 10 Stanford athletes won medals for other countries.

Related content: Stanford Explains Decision to Cut 11 Varsity Sports

New York Institute of Technology took a different approach. The NCAA Division II university in Old Westbury has suspended all of its athletic programs for at least two years to deal with the pandemic. New York Tech had six men’s programs, six women’s programs and a co-ed esports team.

Marshall University in Huntington, W.V., postponed all fall sports except football to the spring. Conference USA had made the choice for all of its members in volleyball and soccer, postponing those sports with the goal of playing everything else this fall. However, the Thundering Herd announced that they also won’t compete in cross country, golf or tennis during the first semester of 2020-21.

"Even though I'm disappointed that our teams won't be able to play this fall, I understand and support the decision to postpone until spring, which gives our student-athletes an opportunity to compete for championships,” Marshall director of athletics Mike Hamrick said. “With so many other conferences postponing as well, we were unable to schedule an acceptable amount of contests. We hope to be able to do that in the spring.”

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