Even with an abbreviated season, Nebraska football likely saved Nebraska’s athletic department from financial disaster amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Husker Athletic Director Bill Moos says he expects the payout from the Big Ten conference this season to be $40 million. (It was around $55 million last year.) Instead of the projected $100 million shortfall in revenue the department was looking at when football was temporarily postponed, now the Huskers are looking at something in the neighborhood of $45 million.
While that still represents a hit, its lessening means that as 2021 begins, the rest of the department is back to work.
Fifty-one employees in the athletic department were furloughed for four months this fall. In October, roughly half of them returned to get the training table and other various student services up and running for the football team to get through its season.
The rest started back at work with their original salaries reinstated on Jan. 1.
Additionally, the across-the-board 10% reductions in salary have been wiped away. Head coach Scott Frost’s $5 million salary was trimmed by $166,667 as part of those reductions. Though not reported, men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg figured to have his $3 million-per-year number trimmed by six figures as well. Before those reductions, both men volunteered to give back an unspecified portion of their salaries in June to help the department out.
“I’m focused on positive, good morale as we go into 2021 and get all of this behind us,” Moos said. “We’ve got to continue to be careful, it’s going to continue to be challenging, but I have reason to believe as we get further into the spring and certainly into the summer that we’ll be back to what looks to be normal starting in the FY22, the 21–22 Academic Year.”
Nebraska’s athletic department, Moos said, still has no debt and still has money in its reserve. The Nebraska fanbase has helped. “They’ve been wonderful in regards to allowing us to keep their contributions in ticket money, that is a big boost for us,” Moos said.
But the Huskers won’t be immune to further hardships if the effects of the coronavirus carry deep into next year.
“If this pandemic continues, we will face similar problems to what our brethren are facing and potentially have to eliminate programs and borrow money to keep the lights on,” Moos said.
Other Big Ten athletic departments have already done the same. This summer, Iowa cut men’s gymnastics, tennis, and men’s and women’s swimming and diving. At Minnesota, men’s gymnastics, tennis, and indoor track all got the ax.
For Fiscal 2019, Nebraska reported $136.2 million in operating revenue. The football program was responsible for $96.2 million of that, with $35.6 million coming just from ticket, program, novelty, parking, and concession sales.
Fan attendance looms large.
According to the New York Times, federal officials had hoped to have 20 million Americans vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of 2020. A news conference on Wednesday acknowledged that while 14 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had been sent out across the country, somewhere between 2.1 and 2.6 million people had received those doses.
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to administer 100 million shots, enough for 50 million people if using the two-dose vaccines, in his first 100 days in office, according to the Times.
That situation could wield some influence over what the next football season looks like in the Big Ten.
For the 2020 campaign, with the Big Ten worried about congregating fans and traveling parties and cross-contamination within the league footprint, a blanket mandate was sent down that public tickets wouldn’t be sold.
Might that be different in 2021? And would mass rollout of a vaccine influence that decision? While nothing is clear this far away from the 2021 season, it’s a situation worth monitoring.
“We need fans,” said Moos, who championed the right for individual programs to make decisions regarding fan attendance this past fall. “We see about a $14 million net hit for every home game that we don’t have fans.”
For now, though, Memorial Stadium is back to full capacity. Tom Osborne Field will get some rest for a few months, but Moos seems happy to have his staff back in the building.
We’ll have more from our conversation with Moos in the coming days.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.