The University of Washington’s athletics department announced a series of expanded cost-saving measures for the 2021 financial year on Friday, as well as major gifts from three of the department’s leaders.
To ease the continued financial burden of COVID-19, UW plans to implement a 15% reduction in its operating budget (roughly $8.5 million), and a 10% salary reduction for staff (roughly $5 million). All Husky head coaches have voluntarily agreed to a minimum 5% salary reduction, and assistant coaches and contract staff (including trainers, strength and conditioning and medical staff) have been asked to accept a voluntary minimum 3% pay cut.
All professional, classified and union staff members — which comprises 156 total employees, including UW’s associate athletics directors — will take a temporary furlough that will last between two and four weeks. They will still have access to their employment benefits during that time.
All current staffing vacancies will remain vacant through the end of fiscal year ’21 — June 30, 2021 — and any mid-year vacancies at non-critical positions will remain vacant for a minimum of three months.
“The department together is committed to maintaining all 22 of our programs and to providing a world-class education and athletic experience for our students,” UW athletics director Jen Cohen said in a statement. “While these decisions are difficult, this shared sacrifice model from our coaches and staff allows us to continue the momentum our student-athletes, coaches, fans and Tyee Club donors have built.
“We have significant challenges ahead, but we remain hopeful that our Husky family will come alongside us to support our students and teams that bring so much pride and joy to our community.”
Besides accepting the aforementioned 5% salary reduction, Cohen, UW head football coach Jimmy Lake and head men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins have also agreed to waive all performance-related incentives in FY21 and make separate individual gifts to the athletics department.
Specifically, Lake and Hopkins will each give $100,000 for the purpose of creating and hiring a “senior-level diversity and inclusion staff position,” according to a university spokesperson. That position, which will hold the title of associate athletics director, will be hired by the end of the summer.
“Coach Hop and coach Lake have been tremendous leaders for us in this department,” Cohen said in a video interview. “I’ve just been blown away by how they’ve handled this adversity and their generosity during this time. They came to me willing and able to give up part of their salary and their benefits and their incentives, but what I think really brought me the most joy and inspiration was their desire to both make $100,000 pledges to allow for us to hire a new associate athletic director for diversity and inclusion.
“That commitment, that is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time. To be able to have the funding to do that during this crisis is game-changing — not only for our student-athletes, but for our staff. I know we value diversity and inclusion as an athletic department but I know we can do better, and their philanthropy is going to be a huge part of our ability to do that in the future.”
This likely won’t be Lake’s only action in the areas of diversity and inclusion. In an interview with Pac-12 Networks this month following the death of George Floyd, UW’s first-year head coach said plans are being put in place to provide voting education for his players this fall and arrange meetings for open dialogue with local law enforcement. He added that “this is an ongoing conversation. This is not just going to be one team meeting. This is going to be an ongoing conversation for a long time.”
Cohen has also pledged a $50,000 gift to UW’s Competitive Edge Fund — which encompasses strength and conditioning, nutrition, counseling, academic support and volunteer and study-abroad opportunities for Husky athletes.
On May 13, Cohen and chief financial officer Kate Cullen presented a “best-case scenario” FY21 budget to UW’s Board of Regents that initially outlined 10% operating-budget cuts ($4.89 million) and 5% staffing-salary reductions ($1.93 million).
That budget proposal, which assumed all fall sports would be played with full fan attendance, still projected a FY21 deficit of $9,912,000 without cost-saving measures and “deficit mitigation plans.” The implementation of those plans would shrink the projected deficit to $1,602,696 (after the annual $14.3 million debt-service payment on the loan that helped finance the 2012 Husky Stadium renovation).
It was stated during the presentation that the athletics department’s reserves, which totaled $34.5 million in 2019, “are adequate to cover our deficit in this best-case-scenario budget.”
It’s becoming increasingly more likely that the best-case scenario won’t be the one Washington is saddled with this fall, and the expanded cost-saving measures announced Friday seem to reflect that reality.
“These actions we’re taking in salary reductions and operating-expense reductions, they’re painful, but they are absolutely necessary for us to have a collective path forward as an athletic department — not just for this year, but for years to come,” Cohen said.
“At the center of all of our decision-making for this plan for the upcoming year are our student-athletes. They’re at the center of everything we’ve made decisions on.”