SEATTLE — In a presentation to the University of Washington’s board of regents on Thursday, athletics director Jen Cohen and chief financial officer Kate Cullen outlined plans to shrink department salaries by 17% — or $8 million — in the 2021 fiscal year. Those cuts are coming, according to an accompanying budget document, via “voluntary contract reductions, department-wide furloughs and other staffing cuts.”
On Thursday, those staffing cuts continued.
In a second round of cost-saving measures to combat the economic effects of COVID-19, UW Athletics has eliminated 16 positions — some of which were filled, and others vacant — and instituted temporary furloughs or FTE (full-time equivalent hours) reductions for an additional 35 staff members, according to a university release.
A UW spokesperson declined to share which specific positions were eliminated.
“Today is an extremely difficult day,” Cohen said in a statement. “We have remained committed to maintaining all 22 of our programs and to providing a world-class education and athletic experience for our students. In order to fulfill this commitment we are having to make some challenging personnel decisions that impact long-standing and dedicated members of our department. The current pandemic continues to have a major impact on our entire country and we are not immune.
“Our generous donors and fans share a passion for all of our programs on Montlake and we can’t thank them enough for how they have already stepped up to support our mission to provide holistic development opportunities for students. We recognize we have a long road ahead but are confident that this community will rally around our beloved student-athletes and programs, and their support will have a lasting impact for years to come.”
On Aug. 11, the Pac-12 Conference announced the postponement of all sports competitions through the end of the year. Cohen wrote in a letter to UW fans that the department could suffer as much as $70 million in losses if Husky sports continue to be canceled.
UW’s revised budget projections, which assume a winter or spring football season featuring 6-8 games and zero fan attendance, anticipate more than $50 million less revenue than the department expected in May and a net operating deficit of $13.4 million — and that’s after the aforementioned salary restrictions. Should the football season be scrapped, UW estimates an additional $20 million in losses.
On June 26, UW announced plans for a 10% total staff salary reduction (roughly $5 million) in FY21. At that time, all Husky head coaches voluntarily agreed to a minimum 5% salary reduction, and assistant coaches and contract staff (including trainers, strength and conditioning and medical staff) were asked to accept a voluntary minimum 3% pay cut.
As part of that initial round of cost mitigation strategies, all professional, classified and union staff members — which comprised 156 total employees, including UW’s associate athletics directors — took a temporary furlough that lasted between two and four weeks. Cohen, UW head football coach Jimmy Lake and head men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins also agreed to waive all performance-related incentives in FY21 and make separate individual gifts to the athletics department.
UW also plans to reduce its operational expenses by 40% in FY21, which will save approximately $20 million. Considering that 65% of the department’s salaries and benefits are tied to guaranteed contracts, there’s a limit to how much can be trimmed in that area.
Of course, the most dire cost-saving strategy would involve cutting one or more of UW’s 22 athletics programs. But in an interview with The Times this week, Cohen reiterated that “we’re fiercely committed to keeping our programs, and we’re also supporting the most important things — like scholarships and academic support, career development and mental health and medical and all of that.
“So I think if you look at the plan we have now, it’s solid, to protect all of our programs. A lot of our ability to do that long term is going to be (dependent on) the kind of support that our programs get from our community.”