SALT LAKE CITY — Utah athletics director Mark Harlan confirmed that full department-wide furloughs and some layoffs are taking place as the coronavirus pandemic takes a toll. The postponement of fall sports, Harlan noted last month, could lead to an income loss of $50-$60 million on a $91 million budget.
“As I have previously shared, the financial challenges that we are facing at Utah has led us to make difficult — but necessary — decisions to mitigate the financial impacts of the pandemic,” Harlan said. “These changes include furloughs of various lengths for every department employee — including me, our executive cabinet and our head and assistant coaches. In addition, in some select cases, we have also eliminated positions through reductions in force. We also have eliminated all performance bonuses until further notice.”
“We’ve collectively thought as a group if we could all do this together it would minimize. We’ve had to lay off some folks in terms of job eliminations and that’s been really hard.” — Utah athletics director Mark Harlan
Harlan explained that such decisions were not made on employee performance, but rather on the significant financial shortfall and the realities of the fall sports postponements.
“We are prioritizing the areas of our athletics operations that directly support our student-athletes,” he said.
On ESPN 700’s “Bill Riley Show” Friday, Harlan said that some tough decisions had to be made because you can’t wait for what might not happen.
“We’ve collectively thought as a group if we could all do this together it would minimize. We’ve had to lay off some folks in terms of job eliminations and that’s been really hard,” he continued.
All staff and coaches will furlough a minimum of 1 week to a maximum of 8 weeks.Head coaches, myself and cabinet will furlough for 2 weeks. We are fully operational as we stagger the schedule through Jan 1. Sharing this sacrifice as a team allows us to emerge stronger than ever.— Mark Harlan (@MarkHarlan_AD) September 5, 2020
There was a concerted effort to what makes sense in terms of the situation.
“So anything we can get in a safe way to get things going again we’re going to do it,” said Harlan, who expressed great optimism about Thursday’s announcement that the Pac-12 is entering into a partnership for rapid COVID-19 testing.
The news, he acknowledged, put a “jump in their step” in a Zoom call with Utah’s head coaches.
Harlan noted it’s a “game-changer.” Rapid testing, he continued, eliminates a lot of risk factors in getting student-athletes back to competing.
Although fall sports teams are currently in practice mode — albeit limited by social distancing regulations — they’re eager to get to the next phase as determined by various oversight boards.
“We’re here. We’re doing our thing and obviously with yesterday’s news I think everyone pretty much saw that as a big step,” Harlan said. “And so, at the same token, we’ve got to manage our expectations. It doesn’t mean we’re going to start a game tomorrow.”
Football hasn’t had a contact practice since two in March and Harlan noted that a six-week camp is still desired. The rapid testing and medical advisories will also form a timeline. Six schools (California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and USC) have yet to receive clearance from local authorities to even start practicing.
As for the possibility of numerous sports taking place soon after the Jan. 1, 2021, date set by the Pac-12, Harlan said it’s a great problem to have.
“We could have everything going,” Harlan said. “Park your car in the morning and leave late at night and you might be able to see six or seven of our teams competing. So it’s exciting to think about.”