ByHarry MiniumConference USA is considering a series of changes to regular-season scheduling and its championships in order to reduce costs because of the expected financial impact from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Old Dominion athletic director Dr. Wood Selig is chairing the group, called the Futures Planning Committee, which is meeting twice a week online. The committee is considering a wide variety of changes, Selig said, to improve the experience for athletes and to trim budget costs.
The committee includes four other athletic directors, a senior women’s administrator and a faculty athletic representative. The goal, Selig said, is to present athletic directors from all 14 schools with a series of recommendations by the end of April.
Any changes approved by the athletic directors must also be approved by the league presidents.
“We are working closely with the conference office,” including commissioner Judy MacLeod and deputy commissioner Brian Mackin, Selig said during an interview with Ted Alexander, the Voice of ODU Athletics.
“We’re really moving quickly. We need to evaluate opportunities to be innovative and creative while also keeping in mind there could be cost-containment associated with any changes.”
Any change to football scheduling would have the most impact on fans, given the sport’s prominence.
Travel costs are a major expense for ODU, which spent nearly $4 million in 2018-2019 on travel.
Among the guiding principles for the committee, Selig said, is that changes “won’t compromise the student athlete experience competitively and academically.”
Selig said that athletic directors from other schools tell him other conferences are also exploring similar changes.
“There are going to be a lot of conferences like Conference USA who have to take look deep look at how we’re going to move forward being financially responsible,” he said.
Cutting costs, he said, can be approached either by looking at revenue or expenses. Given the coronavirus outbreak, expenses “is the only one in which we have control.”
The two biggest expenses for Conference USA and its members are regular-season schedule and championship events.
“We’re going to explore every single sport,” he said. “We will take the scheduling model for the regular season and see what we can do differently.
“Are we playing the right number of games? Do we need fewer (conference) games to reduce travel costs? Do we need to play maybe closer within the conference to reduce travel and missed class time and reduce expenses? Everything is on the table.”
Currently, the football championship is played at the game of the highest-seeded team and basketball tournaments are held at The Star complex owned by the Dallas Cowboys in Frisco, Texas. The committee has yet to begin discussing championship events.
“We’re going to look at are they in the right location?” Selig said “Are we running them the right way? Are we taking the right number of teams to championships? How much do the championship events cost for schools and for the league?
“It will be interesting to determine how much we’re investing in championships and determine can we scale that back.”
The committee will also look at miscellaneous practices, including how many times officials meet in person and proposed salary increases.
Selig also said that ODU is facing a budget shortfall because of the coronavirus.
“We know that going forward, most athletic directors are modeling anywhere from a 10-20 percent loss of revenue, just to be prudent fiscally,” he said.
A 10 percent drop means a $1.5 million loss in revenue for ODU. Conference USA is also expected to reduce revenue sharing by $1 million for the 2020-21 budget, which begins July 1, largely because of a loss of NCAA revenue. The NCAA will share fewer dollars with conferences because the NCAA basketball tournament, the association’s major money maker, was not played.
“When you add that $1.5 million in lost revenue, we are starting $2.5 million in the hole without any knowledge of what our enrollment will be,” he said.
Nationally, enrollment is expected to decline because of the economic uncertainty created by the coronavirus. ODU receives University support in the form of student fees and that number is dependent on enrollment.
Selig said that while he expects revenue from fundraising to decline, he also expects a burst of passion from fans once the campus again begins hosting games.
“Hopefully our fans are going to be as ready as all of us are once the constraints are lifted on what is essentially house arrest with every one working from home,” he said. “They are going to want to get out.
“I hope we are going to provide a tremendous amount of value for our fans once we’re back to business as usual.”
Nonetheless, he says he’s concerned about ODU’s fans and donors and realizes some won’t be able to to purchase season tickets or donate as much money. ODU is working on plans to offer lower-cost options to fans.
“We’re very concerned that we will see a downturn in privately generated revenue,” he said. “Let’s be honest, we all know people who’ve lost their jobs, people who are out of work, people who have been impacted from a health point of view and financial point of view.”
ODU’s coaches and athletes tend to have Type A personalities. They enjoy being around teammates and classmates and working out on campus and being in control of their lives.
Selig said that ODU’s coaches and academic guidance staff have done a great job of keep athletics focused.
“Our coaches have been great at learning about and relying on technology to keep their teams together,” he said. “They’ve challenged their student athletes academically and regard to training.
“Only seven of 500 student athletes are on campus. Most of the rest are at home with no access to gyms or rec centers. They’re having to work out and train on their own.
“Because they’re Type A personalities, they are training as hard as they can and working hard academically. They view COVID-19 as their enemy and are doing everything they can to defeat it.”
Selig had an upbeat message for head coaches and senior administrators during a recent online meeting.
“I told them that what we’re going through is unprecedented,” he said. “We’ve never been through anything like this and we’re all making this up as we go.
“I told them they have more time on their hands now than ever and to use it wisely. Use the time to get closer with your family, to get closer with friends. Build those bridges and make them stronger with the people who are most important to us, and do it without feeling guilty.
“Whether it’s to taking walks or spending time in the back yard, spend time with your family.”
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