WVU’s Shane Lyons Explains Budget Cuts
West Virginia University director of athletics Shane Lyons, like most in his profession, is facing very difficult financial times, as the global COVID-19 pandemic has left huge budgetary holes in many businesses, including college sports.
As a result, Lyons announced Friday that he was furloughing approximately one-third of the athletic department’s employees for the period of 60 days. An undetermined percentage of those, along with other staff positions that were not part of Friday’s furlough wave, are expected to be let go permanently as part of WVU’s belt-tightening.
“Today is a tough day. It’s always tough to share bad news with good people,” said Lyons as he opened his comments on his video press conference. “The past couple of months have been the most uncertain times any of us have experienced. It’s impossible to project what the next couple of months might bring. This pandemic has given us a chance to get an in-depth view of our current and future budgets.
“Like many institutions, we’ve made exploring these financial models a priority during these uncertain times. Athletic departments are having to deal with the economic downturn in addition to how that will affect our donors and our ticket revenue.
“I don’t believe anyone is arguing that the next few years will be very different from what we’ve known in the past,” Lyons continued. “Everybody is having to think real hard on how things will look in the near future in comparison to how things looked 60 to 90 days ago. We’re certainly not alone in this. Tough decisions had to be made. We have a responsibility as a department to run a fiscally-sound unit.
“We can say we were dealt a bad situation with COVID-19, but that doesn’t solve anything,” Lyons added. “We have to have a solution that is action-COVID-19oriented. We have a strong department with good employees, and we’ll get through this.”
The WVU athletic department will furlough approximately 65 employees from May 24 to July 26. There will be some employees who will not return to the department as part of a reduction in force. In addition, current job openings (seven of them) will not be filled.
“As the days carried on since the middle of March, this action was needed,” said Lyons. “Salary reductions and furloughs are never easy, but with a projected $5 million shortfall, they were absolutely necessary. Roughly a third of our budget is salaries, and that was the place we needed to start first. We will continue looking at other areas of our budget to make sure we are exploring everything on the table from a budgetary standpoint.”
The current cuts by WVU athletic department are expected to save approximately $3 million, meaning there is still a $2 million hole in West Virginia’s budget.
“We’re still crunching numbers to see where we fall,” said Lyons. “We’re still looking at other areas of our budget to see where we could cut.
“For instance, in terms of our Olympic sports as an example, we’re looking at our non-conference scheduling and seeing what we can do in terms of bus trips rather than flying on planes; more regional competition. That’s just one area. We’ll look at our overall budget to see where other cuts can be made.”
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Lyons, as well as football coach Neal Brown, men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins, women’s basketball coach Mike Carey and baseball coach Randy Mazey all are taking a voluntary 10-percent reduction in their salaries, starting July 1.
In addition, any coaches or athletic department staff member who makes more $100,000 a year will receive a five-percent pay reduction, and those making less than $100,000 will see a 2.5-percent reduction.
All pay reductions will be for one year’s length starting July 1, 2020.
Lyons added that if any assistant coach’s contract is coming to an end, it will likely be negotiated to extend for just a single year during this time.
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Despite all the concerns, West Virginia’s director of athletics said he is confident that there will be a 2020 football season.
“I still remain optimistic that we will still play football in the fall along with our other fall sports,” stated Lyons.
Details on how that will come about, however, are still to be worked out. With so many changes still unfolding, including the current restrictions on businesses, schools and socialization differing from state to state, no unified plan can be developed for the return of college sports at present.
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A number of WVU athletic facilities are currently undergoing renovations or are slated for work this summer.
Lyons said that work will continue, as the revenue for those projects comes from bonds and gifted donations, not from the athletic department’s fiscal budget.
The major overhaul to football’s Puskar Center will continue, and the repurposing of the Natatorium into an Olympic training center remains on schedule. The changing of all the seats in the Coliseum, as well as the new video boards at Mountaineer Field and the Coliseum, will also take place this summer, just as planned.
“All the projects will continue because the money for those have already been earmarked,” explained Lyons. “That money was not in the budget, it came from gifts from donors and bond sales.”