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Scott G Winterton, KSL, File

BYU athletics faces $20 million budget shortfall, and the Cougars are asking for help

By Sean Walker, KSL.com | Posted - Nov. 21, 2020 at 10:27 a.m.



PROVO — It's no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has hit a lot of people hard.

From the strained healthcare system to the economic impact of trying to control a virus whose spread has been unseen since the Spanish flu of 1918, many businesses are struggling.

That includes the nation's university system, and BYU is no exception.

The Cougars' athletic director Tom Holmoe revealed Friday evening that the athletic department, which routinely operates in the black, is projected to face a shortfall of close to $20 million by the end of the 2020-21 athletic year.

The deficit is due primarily to a loss in revenue caused by a lack of ticket sales and decrease in corporate sponsorship — two revenue streams that accounted for 47% of the department's revenue last year, according to the annual report for the 2019-20 academic year.

The athletic department does not receive funds directly from the university's sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Specifically, no church tithing dollars are used to fund BYU athletics, Holmoe said.

The university turned down $32.2 million from the federal government's Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in May, saying that it hoped the funds allocated to BYU could go to other colleges and universities that needed them more. Regardless if BYU had accepted those funds, they would have been intended for educational purposes.

"As a department, we've worked hard to be financially responsible in the face of the COVID pandemic," Holmoe said. "BYU Athletics has been a self-sustaining entity for more than 40 years, and is one of the few athletic departments in the country that has operated without an annual financial loss for the last 15 years.

"We're not funded by an external entity. We do not receive money from tithing funds, as we believe that money goes to a far greater use. We work to achieve more success without overspending, while still maintaining nationally ranked teams. Not many Power 5 teams can claim that."

New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill, BYU basketball coach Mark Pope and BYU Hall of Famer Jim McMahon are among the cut-outs of fans that filled the stands in the LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo for BYU's home opener against Troy, which was played to help stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo: Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)

In its annual report for the 2019-20 athletic year, BYU reported that 26% of revenue came from ticket sales, with another 17% from corporate sponsorships — the two areas most impacted by the pandemic, according to Holmoe.

The other 53% came from a variety of sources, including Cougar Club donations (13%), broadcast revenue (6%) and sport camps (8%) — most of which were canceled during the spring and summer months.

In the same report, BYU has had some expenses reduced by the pandemic, such as less travel (12%), meals (8%) and recruiting (2%) due to the NCAA's extended recruiting dead period that has limited in-person contact between coaches and recruits since April.

But the biggest driver of expenses — salaries and benefits (37%) — has continued. While other athletic departments, including the University of Utah and Southern Utah University locally, have announced pay cuts and furloughs to some of its top coaches and administrators, BYU has not publicly announced any such measures.

BYU Athletics did recently lay off a significant portion of its athletic department when it "restructured" the athletic communications office, placing a higher priority on social media and cutting jobs to seven former employees, according to social media records from those affected. The U. made cuts to its own athletic department after facing a budget shortfall estimated between $50 and $91 million.

Which is why Holmoe and the Cougars are asking for helping, even creating a new portal to solicit donations at give.byu.edu/allin.

"We are so grateful to so many who have reached out already, by donating season ticket money, rolling ticket purchases to 2021, and contributing new and larger donations," Holmoe said. "We see you, we recognize you, and we thank you. Your generous support is greatly appreciated.

"You may have never had the opportunity to give before; you may have never been asked. I'm asking now. Now is the time to give. $10. $100. $1,000. Or even a million dollars. Whatever you are able to contribute."

The athletic director's video message ends with a series of famous BYU alums pledging to be "all in" for BYU, including Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, former basketball star Jimmer Fredette, Deseret Book CEO and executive vice president of Deseret Management Corporation Sheri Dew, and NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young.

But perhaps the most important plea came from Patti Edwards, the wife of the late BYU legend and College Football Hall of Fame coach LaVell Edwards.

"I'm all in," Patti Edwards said. "And I know that LaVell would be, too, if he were here."

Here's Holmoe's complete remarks. You can watch his call to action in video form above:

"We've missed you, Cougar Nation. We've missed seeing you, we've missed hearing you, and we've missed the roars and cheers from all of you. Our football team has had an amazing season up to this point, and is currently ranked No. 8 in the nation. 2020 has been a year like no other: nine of our teams finished this pst season in the top-15 nationally, including a No. 1 national ranking, a national semifinalist, a national championship runner-up and a national championship team.

"But along with every athletic department across the country, this global pandemic has taken a financial toll on us. Strong sources of revenue like season tickets and sponsorship dollars have taken a big hit. And COVID testing has become a major expense on top of that.

"As a department, we've worked hard to be financially responsible in the face of the COVID pandemic. BYU Athletics has been a self-sustaining entity for more than 40 years, and is one of the few athletic departments in the country that has operated without an annual financial loss for the last 15 years.

"We're not funded by an external entity. We do not receive money from tithing funds, as we believe that money goes to a far greater use. We work to achieve more success without overspending, while still maintaining nationally ranked teams. Not many Power 5 teams can claim that.

"We are so grateful to so many who have reached out already, by donating season ticket money, rolling ticket purchases to 2021, and contributing new and larger donations. We see you, we recognize you, and we thank you. Your generous support is greatly appreciated.

"Despite all our efforts, we are projecting a financial shortfall just short of $20 million by the conclusion of the 2021 athletic season. You may have never had the opportunity to give before; you may have never been asked. I'm asking now. Now is the time to give. $10. $100. $1,000. Or even a million dollars. Whatever you are able to contribute.

"If you are in a financial pinch right now, we understand. If you cannot give at this time, you've already given us a ton, just by being loyal, strong and true. We need you more than ever, Cougar Nation. Who's all-in?"

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