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Utah athletics furloughs will continue despite return of Pac-12 football

Uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has the Utes’ athletic department sticking with its financial plan to combat projected revenue losses.

Rice-Eccles Stadium is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. The Pac-12 Conference canceled its fall 2020 football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rice-Eccles Stadium is pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In announcing the Pac-12’s decision to have a 2020 football season, University of Oregon president Michael Schill insisted it had nothing to do with money.

Finances, though, are a variable — a big variable.

In the weeks that followed the conference’s original postponement announcement of fall sports in August, University of Utah athletics director Mark Harlan estimated a possible income loss of $50-60 million on a $91 million budget. The challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic led to furloughs and the elimination of some positions in the athletics department. Every employee, including Harlan, would be impacted.

After last week’s announcement that a seven-game football season would begin in November, Harlan provided an update on the situation. Television revenue is fluid given the unpredictability of COVID-19. As such, Harlan says they’ll have to wait and see how much revenue is generated when the dust clears. Not being permitted to have fans at games, however, is a big loss.

“We know we’re still dealing with significant financial challenges despite (last week’s) announcement. But obviously we have a chance to have more revenue than, than maybe we would have thought of a few weeks ago,” Harlan said. “So we’re going to continue to adhere to our budget and into all the policies that we put in place to manage our way through this — knowing that there could be a light here at the end of the tunnel that will have more revenue that we weren’t necessarily counting on.”

The uncertainty of how many games will actually be played leaves the amount of the latter difficult to gauge. Harlan noted that they’re still dealing with the unknown in terms of revenue and Utah’s financial approach will continue for the most part.

“We can pull out our Abacus and look at many games on our schedule and, you know, do the average television number. But we just don’t know how many of those games are going to get in,” Harlan said. “So we have to go in with the assumption that’s a great unknown and as such we need to stay the course as it relates to our budget management and then operationally and with employees.”

Utah’s furlough plan, he explained, ranges from two to nine weeks and is already underway. It will continue as planned with the exception of folks directly involved with football games when the revamped schedule is announced.

“We may have to adjust but we’re planning on sticking to our ongoing commitment on furloughs,” said Harlan, who noted that it involves everyone in the organization. “We see no reason to change that with the exception of maybe having a change date so that we’re fully ready to go.”