HUNTINGTON — The Marshall University Athletic Department was set to receive a budget increase in the coming fiscal year, but as the university faces unprecedented uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the department will have less to work with than it had this budget year.
The university overall is facing an $8.8 million budget hole. Marshall President Jerry Gilbert said Wednesday during a virtual meeting of the board of governors’ athletic committee that national polls predict a 10% to 15% decrease in student enrollment to institutions of higher learning come fall.
“If we have that, we will have less money from tuition and less money to go toward athletics,” Gilbert said. “We are trying to get a handle on what level of decline we are going to face.”
Gilbert said he would share more on dollar figures and what they can cut from the budget during Thursday’s meeting of the full board of governors. The athletic department had been poised to receive a 3.2% increase to its budget, covering salary increases, more student-athlete scholarships and increased medical costs for athletes.
The university and the athletic department are coming with different plans depending on how the pandemic plays out in the coming months. Gilbert said officials currently believe the university will have in-person classes come fall, which was not where they were last week. He said as the country moves to open back up the economy, it bodes well for face-to-face classes and sports.
“This is an unprecedented time,” said athletic director Mike Hamrick.
“I don’t think anyone in college athletics or higher education has been through what we’ve been through and what we potentially are going to go through. We’ve been working on contingency plans based on assumptions. But what we say today could change tomorrow and then change the day after that.”
He said the athletic department is monitoring the situation in three silos: the national level, the conference level and its own budget.
Hamrick said the athletic department is working on its budget daily, and it has several plans, some that include personnel, but he did not elaborate during the open session. The department already was behind on revenue projections before the basketball season was cut short and the spring sport season canceled entirely. But at the last meeting of the athletic committee in March — before in-person classes were canceled — Hamrick said lower expenses for travel and athlete care had balanced out the athletic budget.
Hamrick is part of the team at the NCAA working on scenarios for the upcoming football season, which all depend on what the virus does. He said it changes daily.
“We all hope it starts on time,” Hamrick said. “We have one of the best home schedules I think we’ve ever had.”
Marshall also has a “week zero” game at the end of August versus Eastern Carolina, moved to honor the 50th anniversary of the plane crash. Hamrick said the team would have to begin conditioning training by July, in his estimate.
“Our medical people will dictate when we can put our football players out there to practice and how much time they need before they can play,” Hamrick said.
Conference USA also is working on plans based on different scenarios, and Hamrick is also part of the team working on a plan to find cost savings for the programs in the conference.
Hamrick said football without fans in the stadium would be the last resort. University officials also have discussed how they could apply social distancing standards in the stadium, possibly for certain populations of people.