Oral Roberts University athletics doesn’t depend on football revenue or media rights money. The Golden Eagles don’t play football and, like fellow Summit League members, are rarely televised nationally.
So here is an anomaly when it comes to the pandemic’s fiscal impact on college sports. ORU is affected by the 6-week-old shutdown, but how?
“We’ll take a hit from the NCAA Tournament revenue losses,” Golden Eagles athletic director Mike Carter said, noting the NCAA disclosed a 62.5% cut in revenue it anticipated distributing to conferences. “As we go forward into next year we anticipate we’ll take a few hits from the donors side and sponsorships side.”
From a March Madness standpoint, Carter notes tournament payouts to conferences range according to the number of teams that conference sends to the tournament, and the number of games those teams play. The Summit, historically a one-bid, one-game league, doesn’t generate the kind of revenue off the tournament multi-bid, multi-game conferences do.
It is assumed mid-major leagues like the Summit rely on that money inordinately no matter the figure, since they can’t count on TV or football revenue to supplement. Carter contends that depends on the details of the individual school’s budget.
How is his ORU budget built?
“Predominantly (through) institutional funds,” he said.
Think of it this way — the doomsday scenario for Power 5 athletic directors is loss of a college football season, since college football revenue funds so much of the ADs’ departments. Doomsday for Carter would be if ORU’s enrollment plummeted.
“Yes,” he said, “because ticket sales don’t drive our budget. I’d love for it to, but the truth is it historically hasn’t. It’s student enrollment that’s going to affect us more than anything else. And our athletic donor base.”
ORU has benefited from a steady increase in enrollment over the past dozen years. How does 2020-21 look?
“It’s too early to tell,” Carter said. “We’re going to have a better feel June 1 and July 1 and certainly a much better feel Aug. 1.”
The hazy timeline is a familiar theme for athletic directors trying to manage pandemic fallout. Temporary pay cuts or furloughs are common, as well. The University of Tulsa announced furloughs last week for personnel including those in the athletic department.
“Our school as a whole is implementing a salary reduction for the next three months, May 1 through July 31,” Carter said. “That’s across the board.”
Carter said his administrators and coaches are taking cuts ranging from 10% to 20% of their salary, in line with campus personnel. That’s a known consequence of the crisis. More consequences are anticipated.
Carter, like so many of his peers, deals in contingency planning in that vein.
“We’re looking at how we can save costs,” he said. “We’re really not looking at cutting any sports at this point. We may try to figure out a way to reduce travel and make travel more regional as we complete the schedules, try to drive more and fly less.
“We’re approaching the spring sport eligibility extension and working on a way to grant all of those seniors that want to come back an extra year of eligibility. We’ve spent a lot of time on that recently. Baseball, outdoor track, tennis and golf, there are some kids that want to come back, so we are trying to find a way to accommodate them.”
Carter communicates with his coaches about those issues, and with donors and sponsors about matters more associated with the department’s bottom line. He is reliant on their support as much as Joe Castiglione at Oklahoma, Mike Holder at Oklahoma State and Derrick Gragg at TU, if not more so.
On the topic of lost donor/sponsor revenue from ORU’s canceled baseball season, Carter said: “We lost some, but it wasn’t a major hit. Our donors, in many of those cases when an offer to refund was made, they declined. They said just keep it for the program. I’d say 90% made that gesture.”
That’s encouraging. So is the fact that, according to Carter, ORU is offering summer classes both on campus and virtually for students who choose to stay online.
Fall, of course, will be the tell-all. There are so many questions.
ORU touts a student body representing 115 countries. How will international students feel about returning? What are the logistics involved?
What are the logistics involved in creating social distancing measures on campus?
“We’re creating classrooms so we can observe the distancing,” Carter said. “We may require the students to wear masks in class. I think the way the dorms have been set up, it’s one (student) to a room. We’re trying to be very careful. The way the classrooms are set up, the professor will be teaching and it will be sent out virtually to anyone who enrolls in that class who wants to take it from home.”
How will students feel about those measures? Can they afford to even consider tuition given the depressed economic climate?
“Families are struggling,” Carter recognized. “You just don’t know.”
Those four words hit hard for all of us, never mind our connection to sports. All we can do is be hopeful while managing our reality the best we can.
That certainly applies to athletic directors, including those who manage without a football program.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Carter said. “We recognize all of the issues that are out there, and we realize we may have to make some very difficult cuts or changes late summer or early fall. But right now we’re optimistic that everything is going to go as planned.”
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