The athletic departments at Radford and VMI are tightening their belts because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Radford athletic director Robert Lineburg said reducing his department’s scholarship budget is “absolutely … in play” for the 2020-21 school year.
“Tough times call for tough measures,” Lineburg said Tuesday in a phone interview. “I don’t know how much we’re going to have to pull out of that [scholarship] budget to make it work, but we’re certainly going to have to.”
His department might also have to resort to layoffs.
“Perhaps,” Lineburg said. “We want to do our best to keep that from happening. But in a crisis like this, you’re going to have to look at a lot of different options.”
VMI athletic director Dave Diles said his department is not anticipating layoffs or scholarship reductions.
But to cut down on travel costs, Radford and VMI teams will try to schedule as many nonconference foes from the region as possible.
“We’ve … talked [at Radford] about very, very regional nonconference play for all of our sports,” Lineburg said. “Men’s basketball and women’s basketball get a little bit of leeway with that as it pertains to [big-money] guarantee games. But we really want to stay in the commonwealth or as close by as possible.
“Sports that may have gone to Florida for games in the spring, for example, it may be North Carolina rather than Florida.”
Radford and VMI teams will seek to cut down on overnight trips by heading to road games on the day of a game when possible.
“Those are going to be coaches’ decisions [at VMI],” Diles said in a phone interview. “It hasn’t been mandated.”
As is the case at other colleges, Radford and VMI expect less money will be coming into their athletic departments’ coffers in the 2020-21 school year.
“We all understand that there’s been a reset,” Diles said. “We’ve had to roll up our sleeves and look at some things that we can do to capture savings.
“There are a lot of little things that add up to significant savings.”
The pandemic could affect such income sources as student fees, donations, ticket revenue and corporate sales.
“All revenue streams in general have the potential to be compromised,” Lineburg said. “We basically just had to start over again in terms of our budget, trying to figure out how far off we’re going to be. … Operating budgets are going to get cut.”
Lineburg figures his 2020-21 athletic budget will potentially have to decrease by a “substantial” amount from what the original plan was before the pandemic.
“Somewhere in that $500,000 to $1 million range for sure,” Lineburg said.
Lineburg said teams will have to dip into their RU Foundation bank accounts to help pay for their travel costs, rather than using that money to buy extra equipment.
Big South member Radford had a budget of about $11 million in the 2018-19 school year, including about $3.2 million in scholarship money.
Lineburg said most Radford teams will be affected by a reduction in the scholarship budget.
“We haven’t completely identified what that’s going to look like,” he said. “You kind of have to spread that over three or four years.
“Some [athletes’ grants] may be reduced. And then there’s some coaches that may have scholarship money right now that we would have the discussion that we’re not going to use any more of it between now and a year from now perhaps.”
In addition to the scholarship bill, Radford funds about $80,000 in cost of attendance stipends for men’s and women’s basketball players. Lineburg said cost of attendance funds will not be slashed.
Diles said VMI’s 2020-21 athletic budget will have to be reduced by a “significant” amount from what the original plan was. He would not give an estimated amount.
Southern Conference member VMI had an athletic budget of $14.2 million in the 2018-19 school year. VMI does not give out cost of attendance stipends.
Schools are worried about the pandemic possibly causing a decline in enrollment, which would mean a reduction in the student fees that go to athletics.
“The enrollment piece for [Radford] is a big deal because we’re generally student-fee-driven,” Lineburg said.
Another source of revenue has already been affected.
The NCAA is sending schools less money this spring because of the cancellation of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Radford’s annual share of the NCAA revenue is usually $440,000 to $450,000, but Lineburg said last month he expected that sum will drop 60% this spring.
Diles said VMI’s share is usually about $550,000, but he is expecting to get only 30% of that sum this spring.
Both athletic departments are saving money by not filling jobs. Radford has two openings that will not be filled until July at the earliest. VMI has five unfilled positions.
At some schools, the pandemic has put entire teams on the chopping block.
Furman — one of VMI’s SoCon rivals — announced Monday it is dropping baseball and men’s lacrosse. East Carolina announced Monday it plans to cut at least one sport. Central Michigan announced Tuesday it is dropping men’s track and field.
But neither Radford nor VMI plans to drop any teams.
Both schools will enjoy significant savings in 2020-21 from decisions made by their respective leagues.
Last week, the Big South and the SoCon announced a series of cost-cutting moves for the 2020-21 school year in an effort to help reduce schools’ travel costs.
Each league, for example, winnowed tournament fields in seven sports to just four teams. Both leagues also will require baseball teams to complete three-game conference series in two days instead of three.