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Athletics projects $36M in lost revenue due to COVID-19, details positive tests among students and staff

<p>Athletics staff spoke to the Academic Council at the council's Thursday meeting.&nbsp;</p>

Athletics staff spoke to the Academic Council at the council's Thursday meeting. 

Duke Athletics projects a revenue loss of at least $36 million due to the pandemic and has put financial measures in place to help make up for the loss, the department’s chief financial officer told the Academic Council on Thursday.

Duke Athletics staff gave an overview of their operations and current projects at the council’s meeting. Topics included the financial impact of the pandemic and steps taken to mitigate it, the number of students-athletes and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19, the safety measures put in place to stop the spread of the virus, and the department’s diversity efforts. 

Mitch Moser, chief financial officer for Duke Athletics, told the council that Athletics currently projects a total loss of revenue of around $36 million due to the pandemic. 

Athletics has evaluated the best-case financial impact of the pandemic at three points, Moser said. In June, they projected a loss of at least $16.5 million in revenue due to the cancellation of last year’s men’s basketball tournament, reduced capacity for football and basketball games and a hit to philanthropic donations. In September, they projected another $4.5 million in losses. 

At the moment, Athletics projects about another $16 million in losses due to a lack of fans at basketball games and special events, Moser said. Further interruptions to the basketball season could cause another hit to revenue.

Athletics has taken measures over the past year to account for the lost revenue, Moser said at the meeting, including reducing financial aid expenses, cutting non-compensation operating budgets and salaries for employees making more than $50,000 a year, and starting a new fundraising initiative that has brought in more than $1 million. 

“The past eight months, as you can well imagine, have been a whirlwind of financial scenario planning and implementation of mitigation strategies,” Moser said.

In an email to The Chronicle on Friday, Moser wrote that after accounting for strategies to mitigate losses, Athletics projects a budgetary gap of around $5 million to $7 million. 

He also wrote that the reductions in financial aid expenses did not include cutting scholarships, but involved savings from Summer Session II being canceled and asking coaches not to use remaining uncommitted aid. 

Bob Weiseman, senior associate director of athletics and athletic facilities for game operations and championships, spoke to efforts to contain COVID-19 among athletic teams. He shared a presentation with a breakdown of COVID-19 cases among student-athletes and Athletics staff: 

  • Twenty-six student-athletes or staff tested positive between July 12 and Aug. 1, 2020, as Duke announced at the time.
  • Six student-athletes and eight staff members tested positive between Aug. 2 and Nov. 20, 2020. These numbers were not previously announced because Duke did not separate athlete test results from overall data during the fall semester, during which the University reported a total of 241 positive tests among students, faculty and staff. 
  • Sixty-four athletes or staff tested positive from Nov. 21 to Jan. 1, while athletes were outside of Duke’s COVID-19 “bubble” during the break. These positive tests occurred while Duke was not updating its COVID-19 dashboard
  • Thirteen student-athletes have tested positive since Jan. 2, 10 on or shortly after arrival to campus and three due to spread of the virus, as well as four staff members or coaches.

Duke is confident that they can manage COVID-19 spread and that there has been little or no impact on the Durham community because of athletic activities, said Weiseman, who has coordinated Athletics’ pandemic response. He noted that no games were canceled before winter break due to COVID-19 issues in Duke programs, though the diving program paused over the break and the women’s basketball team reported positive cases before opting out of the season

Heather Ryan, associate director of athletics for academic services and senior woman administrator, gave an overview of team competition. She noted that 26 of Duke’s 27 teams will play this semester, after the NCAA moved fall championships except for football to the spring

Linda Franzoni, Athletics Council chair and associate dean of undergraduate education in the Pratt School of Engineer, said that the Athletics Council felt at its November meeting that “the Athletics Department was doing an excellent job balancing the desire to practice and compete with the need to keep players, coaches and the Duke community at large safe from COVID infections.”

Diversity in Athletics

Athletics Chief of Staff Nina King gave an update on diversity and engagement efforts in the Athletics department. About 19% of Athletics staff are people of color and 35% of student-athletes identify as members of underrepresented groups, she said.

“That 19% number of our staff is progress from where we were 10 years ago,” said King, who is also senior deputy director of athletics for administration and legal affairs. “We have our first three Black head coaches, in wrestling, softball and most recently women’s basketball. But we’re not resting, because we’ve got work to do to continue to increase those numbers.”

In June, a student-athlete group called United Black Athletes worked with staff to create a Black Justice Summit, where athletes, coaches and staff could discuss racial injustice in America. That forum was a starting point for “actionable steps” for the athletic community at Duke, King said.

Athletics has created a group of Black staff that meets regularly, as well as a mentorship program for Black student-athletes and staff, and student-athletes held a peaceful protest in Krzyzewskiville last August. 

Athletics is also creating a working group of student-athletes and staff that will work on four topics, King said: “community outreach; awareness and education programs; celebration of diversity; and recruitment, hiring and retention.” The last goal will involve ensuring that there are diverse candidate pools for all Athletics staff positions. 

In other business

At the end of the meeting, Executive Vice Provost Jennifer Francis and Rachel Satterfield, interim vice president for finance, gave the council an update on Duke’s overall finances, according to the meeting agenda. The update was in an executive session and thus was not open to the press. 

Troy Austin, senior associate director of athletics for internal affairs, gave an overview of Athletics’ work to provide mental-health services to student-athletes, from setting up a behavioral health unit in 2018 to tracking athletes’ experiences during the pandemic.

Chris Kennedy, senior deputy director of athletics, told the council that Duke is tied with Notre Dame University and Northwestern University for the highest graduate success rate in the country among student-athletes, at 98%. He also gave an overview of the Title IX gender-equity plan that Duke developed five years ago, which included adding 20 scholarships in existing women’s sports and adding a softball team with another 12 scholarship spots.

Victoria Szabo, research professor of art, art history and visual studies, told the council that the nominating committee for the next Academic Council chair had selected two candidates: Erika Weinthal, professor of environmental sciences and policy, and Lawrence Zelenak, Pamela B. Gann distinguished professor of law. 

The election for chair will be the week of Jan. 25, said Kerry Haynie, associate professor of political science and the council’s current chair. 

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin was editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 116th volume.


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